Remembering the Landing Beaches of Normandy #D-Day

Arromanche Beach

Arromanches les Bains seafront beach and remains of the artificial harbour used on D-Day in World War II. Normandy France.

It has been seventy-six years since the Allies landed in France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and still people travel to Normandy to see the beaches and visit the cemeteries.

Landing Beach Map

Map of the landing beaches at Normandy.

My father served in North Africa and Italy during World War II, so I never planned to visit the D-Day beaches, but now I have done so twice. Once on a cruise around the British Isles, and again in September 2016 on a tour of Northern France. Both times I came away humbled by the sacrifices made there.

The D-Day invasion was a massive undertaking, with over 156,000 American, Canadian and British forces involved. Code named Operation Overlord, it was the largest amphibious landing in history.

The invasion started the night of June 5th as paratroopers were flown into France behind the German lines. One of the most famous stories is about the paratrooper who landed in the charming town of Ste. Mere Eglise, where his parachute caught on the tower of the church in the middle of a fire. Visitors can view a replica of the trooper hanging from the tower.

church tower + parachute

Church tower at Ste. Mere Eglise.

One of the most impressive sites is at Pointe du Hoc, the location of German bunkers in between Omaha and Utah beaches that fired shells at the Americans during the landing. A contingent of Army Rangers climbed the cliffs to take the high ground. There’s a monument to them.

Ranger Monument

Ranger Monument at Pointe du Hoc, Normandy.

The stone plaque at the monument reads:

To the heroic Ranger Commandoes… of the 116th inf. under the command of Colonel James E. Rudder of the First American Division attacked and took possession of Pointe du Hoc.

The site has been pretty much left as it was after the battle, with the exception of the memorial and the grass and other plants that now grow there. It is a truly spectacular spot, with gorgeous ocean views. It’s hard to imagine what a hell it must have been seventy-six years ago.

Cliff at Pointe du Hoc

Cliff at Pointe du Hoc

The most moving part of the day’s tour was the visit to the American Cemetery at Colville, not the only D-Day cemetery. On the way, we passed the site of the first American cemetery, now reduced to a single memorial stone. The Colville site is a beautiful cemetery, meticulously maintained. Gazing out at the rows and rows of grave markers, most with crosses on top, but some with Stars of David or crescents, drives home the extent of the sacrifices made that long-ago day, and the mere thought of it brings tears to my eyes.

American cemetery

Grave markers at American cemetery, Colville, France

The generation that fought in World War II is rapidly dying off, sadly, some from COVID-19. I wonder if we will ever see their like again.


Visiting Sainte Mère Église #TuesdayTravels #D-Day

Tuesday Travels
After the Tapestry Museum and Bayeux Cathedral, we drove north to the charming village of Sainte Mère Église.

Sainte Mere Eglise

One of our first glimpses of Sainte Mère Église.

This town played a dramatic role in the events of June 5-7, 1944. The town had seen Allied air raids before, and a flare dropped from an airplane lit the a house in the town square on fire that night of June 5. If you’ve seen the movie, The Longest Day, you’re familiar with the story. While the townspeople fought the fire, paratroopers landed all around the town.

Most famously, one man, John Steele, drifted too close to the church and his parachute caught on the tower. For two hours, he dangled there, watching the scene below, but unable to get free. The next day, he was taken prisoner by the Germans, but later turned over to the Americans. In memory of John Steele, an effigy dressed in a paratrooper’s uniform hangs from a parachute on the church tower to this day.

church tower + parachute

Sainte Mère Église was the first town in France to be liberated, another claim to fame. World War II memorabilia and flags of the allied countries are seen everywhere in the town.

Sainte Mere Eglise

It’s also home to the Airborne Museum, which tells the story of all that happened back in June of 1944.

Airborne Museum

Rebecca and I wandered around before sitting down for a delicious lunch of savory buckwheat galettes.

Sainte Mere Eglise

More #TuesdayTravels to come next week.


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