This post may contain affiliate links. It is a way for this site to earn advertising fees by linking to certain products and/or services.
There were parts of our last trip to Europe, that weren’t as exciting or lighthearted, as others. I enjoy writing about the fun stuff! It makes me feel like I am reliving the experience. Today, I am going to share about a tour, that wasn’t necessarily “fun” and “exciting”, like Disneyland Paris or Bayeux, but it was eye-opening and it taught me lessons that are impossible to learn from history books. This post is about our last stop in France: The D-Day Beaches in Normandy.
I’m going to be honest. It was my husbands idea, to go to Normandy. This has been on his bucket list, for awhile. He has familial ties to WWII and the events that took place and he is also a history buff. Even though history, in general, isn’t my favorite subject, I can still appreciate the struggle and sacrifice. For me, standing on the D-Day beaches and in the cemeteries, is more about humanity, than it is history.
Our tour was a full day and it included many stops, so I will be giving a brief summary of each. Starting with my favorite stop: Angoville-au-Plain.
You may have never heard of this small town, in France. I know I hadn’t, before this trip. However, this town holds one of the greatest stories of bravery, that I have ever heard. The story of Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore. They were medics, in the 101st Airborne Division. On June 6th, 1944, they set up camp in a small church, in Angoville-au-Plain. Over three days, they saved many lives. When German soldiers happened upon the church, they left them safe. Because, they saw Wright and Moore treating both American and German soldiers, without discrimination. Wright and Moore even went out, into the gunfire, in order to retrieve the injured and bring them back to the church. That church still stands, today. Including, the blood-stained pews, where injured soldiers laid. It remains a memorial of the brave acts of those men.
Sainte-Mère-Église is another French town, with an interesting D-Day story. It is located between the two U.S. landing beaches, Utah and Omaha. On D-Day, it served as another landing point for paratroopers. One of those paratroopers was John Steele, from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. During his landing, his parachute was caught on the church steeple, where he ended up hanging for two hours. He played dead, so that the German soldiers would ignore him, but soon he was discovered and taken prisoner. The story doesn’t end there though. He was able to escape, when a his fellow soldiers, attacked the group of Germans that were holding him. Today, there is a paratrooper statue that hangs from the church, commemorating that event in history.
You can see by now that this tour included much more than just the U.S. landing beaches. However, the beaches were the main act. Just like they were on D-Day. The first one we stopped at, was Utah beach. While paratroopers were landing inland, infantry and equipment was arriving on shore. However, at Utah things didn’t go quite as planned. Due to the conditions of the water, the troops ended up landing 2,000 yards from where they were supposed to. This is where the famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. came: “We’ll start the war from right here.” This worked out in their favor and the casualty count ended up being one of the lowest of the beach landings. It was also the most successful.
Unlike Utah beach, the Omaha beach landing was one of the bloodiest. Nothing went according to plan. They lost several tanks, to rough waters, and they encountered many obstacles. The boats carrying troops, were stopped far out from shore, where the men had to run through waist-deep (and higher) water, while bullets rained down on them. There was no cover, unless they made it to the bottom of the cliffs, on the beach. If they made it there, they were faced with a 25-30 meter climb. Small groups were able to defy the odds and miraculously, by the end of the day, 34,000 troops were able to land. However, it was at the cost of over 2,000 casualties.
Pointe du Hoc
This was an important landing spot, in the Normandy invasion, because it’s where a lot of the German artillery was kept. A team of U.S. Army Rangers were sent to capture the weapons. In order to get to them, they had to climb a 30 meter high cliff’s edge, while gunfire rained down on them. However, when they arrived, the artillery was not there. Instead they found poles, that had been setup to look like guns. The German army had moved the real weapons to another location, south of Pointe du Hoc, where they were later found by the Rangers.
The Normandy American Cemetery
Our last stop was at the final resting place, of many of the heroes, that died during the Normandy invasion and throughout WWII. Cemeteries are always a somber place to be, but the impact of standing in this cemetery, after seeing the battle sites, was magnified tenfold. Seeing the thousands of grave markers and reading the names and birthdates, made them more than a story in a book. They were real people, that fought for our freedom. Without their sacrifice, who knows where we would be today.
The Significance of Visiting the D-Day Beaches
Standing in these locations, where massive moments in history occurred, was overwhelming at times. In the visitor centers we were able to see the images and video and hear the first hand testimonies. Then, stepping out onto the sand and looking out into the ocean, you really feel the impact. We were there in mid-June and you can see that I was wearing a jacket and a scarf. It is cold in June, on the coast of France. It was cold on June 6th, 1944. Those men trudged through icy waters and navigated rocky terrain. Most of them, younger than I am now. Some of them never saw another day, on earth. The sacrifice and bravery is almost unfathomable. It’s something that should be remembered and appreciated.
If that’s not a reason to visit Normandy, then I don’t know what is.
Until next time!