After a few days in Paris, we rented a car and headed up to check out the famous beaches of Normandy. The ride up took about three hours on a combination of freeway-style and two lane roads. Getting out of the center of Paris is a little challenging but after that the ride is through lovely countryside. I'm convinced now more than ever that most of France is planted with rape seed plants, which are used to make canola oil. I saw fields and fields of the tell-tale yellow flowers with some farm houses mixed in.
Something that I learned on the trip that I guess I probably should have known beforehand is that there's no town called Normandy. It's the name of the region of north-western France that was made famous by the D-Day Allied invasion that took place here in 1944. The area includes towns like Caen and Bayeux along with the coastal-English-Channel areas that have nicknames like Omaha and Utah Beach.
Our first stop in the region was at the small town of Arromanches-les-Bains. It's located along a stretch of beach that was designated Gold Beach during the invasion. It became a key man-made port used to bring supplies in to the area. Concrete remains of the harbor jetties are still visible off the beach of the tiny village, which mostly caters to the many tourists in the area. In other words, if you want crepes or ice cream after visiting the town's two WWII museums, you're in luck.
After my dad and Ginny went got their history on at the museum and Diana and I ate crepes and ice cream, we all got back into the car and drove over to Colleville-sur-Mer, home to what is called Omaha Beach. It's very awe inspiring to look out over this lovely beach in this beautiful region and think about what the D-Day invasions were like. If you've seen Saving Private Ryan, you'll have a pretty good start since the opening scenes were based here.
As a refresher...at about 630am on June 4, 1944, the Operation Overlord D-Day invasion began and approximately 160,000 allied ground troops started coming ashore along a 50 mile stretch of beach. By the end of a day that saw bad weather and intense fighting, approximately 10,000 allied troops had died (and between 4,000 and 10,000 German troops) with many more injured.
This is a photo of a quiet Omaha Beach on the hilltop in front of the cemetery and memorial looking basically east.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is located above Omaha beach on a hill overlooking the ocean. They have a museum that's excellent. What I really liked about it is that it looks at D-Day from the point of view of the infantry men. It follows a handful of different men that died that day through parts of their lives as well as letters they had written home in the days leading up to the invasion. Since WWII happened a little before I was born and I didn't know anyone personally who was there, I think it did a great job in making the history of the area real because you can attach names and faces to it.
I particularly liked this display of a rifle with a helmet on it planted into some pebbles. It was very moving.
After visiting the museum, we walked through the cemetery for a while. The site is a beautiful memorial to those who gave their lives for what they believed in. It was humbling to walk through the rows and rows and rows and rows of grave markers.
Many thanks to all those who were there and especially to those who never left.