Normandy: D-Day Beaches

Europe, France, Normandy , , , , ,
“I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

…and full victory is what was ultimately achieved along the 6 mile stretch that is Omaha Beach. On June 6, 1944 a total of 160,000 allied troops, 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft bombarded a 50 mile stretch of beaches along the Atlantic coast of France in an effort to get a foothold of what had become a massive amount of Europe under Nazi control during World War II. When we traveled from Paris to Normandy we had no idea how vast the amount of land was that was all part of D-day and poorly planned our entire trip there – I’m going to give you as much information as possible so you can properly plan your time in Normandy and really get the most out of it. One day we hope to go back to really soak it up for what it is and have a fuller understanding of what actually happened on the very ground we walked. So I will not have a lot of information about all the beaches and different monuments – mainly only for Omaha Beach, which is the most popular for visitors. I would highly recommend doing your research before you go (I did some but didn’t spend a lot of time on it and I really regret it). For a list of books about D-day click here, and if you’re not really into reading, the History Channel has some videos and other media posted and there are also scripted movies (such as Saving Private Ryan or The Longest Day – just remember these aren’t entirely accurate) for you to view and really grow a connection with everything that is D-day before you go. I guess a major TIP I would pass along to you is to stay for at least one night and two days as we did not get much done in a couple hours. Now, to give you all I got from our time in Omaha Beach…

I have to say it was the most humbling, awe-inspiring and “proud to be an American” moment I’ve ever felt. The feelings of just standing in solitude on a rainy day on a dock that went at least 100 feet out into the Atlantic Ocean over looking endless water as far as my eyes could see and being in the presence of where true heroes once existed fighting for everything they believed in and loved. Most of them knew they weren’t going home as they rushed the beaches with gun in hand against an enemy they’d never met before and there I was paying homage to those men who are very likely the reason why I was able to stand there at almost exactly 70 years later and remember them. I can’t explain this spiritual journey or emotions that came along with it…it was almost as if while I was watching the waves crash on the beach I was somehow seeing these men still crawling up that beach and fighting. It was almost as if I could see bombs going off, hear shots being fired and see the blood stained sand although none of it was there anymore…just the remnants of what once was. I still get teary eyed with gratitude, love and conviction just thinking about what these men endured to protect what they loved. I wish the same for you, take the time to stand there and just experience what once was going on on the very ground beneath your feet and I promise, very few things will ever match that moment.

Getting there from Paris is surprisingly easy by a rental car (if you don’t feel comfortable driving across the countryside there are trains that go out to Normandy you can take). We entered a tunnel in the middle of Paris setting out to start off on our adventure to Omaha beach…we were under ground for about 20-30 minutes,

This is what we saw when we came out of the tunnel

(I began to worry we would never get out!) until we finally saw some gleaming sunlight and as we came to the exit of the tunnel we were suddenly in the middle of the countryside. It was incredible. That coolness aside, we were able to go from Paris to Omaha Beach in about 3 hours (spending a few hours there) and made a stop in Honfleur (for about an hour to an hour and a half) and still made it back to Paris just as the sun was going down. You must remember, sunset doesn’t come until almost 10 p.m. in Paris so the day is nice and long to get things done. Make sure you bring various Euro with you as there are tolls along the way, none of them too expensive and almost no wait time as they have many bays for the cars. There are enough places to stop along the way to get gas and food and WATCH OUT this road is loaded with cameras that enforce speed limits. We actually received 2 traffic tickets mailed to our house about a month after we got home, insert sad face here.

Now on to what Omaha has to offer….

1) Omaha Beach Museum
http://www.musee-memorial-omaha.com
For a list of hours click here
Cost: Adult 6.50 Euro, Child (7-15) 3.90 Euro, Children 7 & under are FREE

I would recommend visiting the Omaha Beach Museum located just at the shore of Omaha (Avenue de la Libération 14710 SAINT-LAURENT-SUR-MER – NORMANDIE FRANCE) before you go to the beaches and the other sites. It is thoroughly educational and helps you get a personal connection and understanding of the men who fought and the depth of what they had to go through. It is an amazing museum with original equipment through out. They use mannequins dressed in original uniforms on display in various scenes of what it would’ve looked like in 1944. They have original letters, dog tags, guns and more that were either found at the beaches or donated. I must put a warning on it though as some of the pictures are graphic and depending upon the age of your children you might want to monitor exactly where they go in the museum. There is a wonderful movie area by the restrooms that plays the original footage of the invasion and has some of the nurses, soldiers and rangers being interview about their life experience on the beach that day. On the way out of the museum there is a great little museum to get memorabilia for all ages. This museum is a MUST GO if you are around the D-day beaches. It will give you an entirely new understanding of the reality that happened that dark, but liberating day in 1944.

2) Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial
http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/normandy-american-cemetery
Address: 14710 Colleville-sur-Mer, France

Located on a cliff over looking Omaha Beach and out into the Atlantic Ocean this cemetery contains the remains of 9,387 American soldiers. Upon entry, the rows of crosses and large monuments seem overwhelming, you almost don’t know where to begin. To your left is a massive semi-circular colonnade made of French limestone, ceramic tiles and a floor made of pebbles taken from Omaha beach itself. Within it is a 22 foot bronze statue (“The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves”) stretching up towards the sky and overlooking the Garden of the Missing. The garden is wrapped with semi-circular walls with the names of the 1,557 missing men who were never found or whose remains have never been identified. These men are so worthy of a silent moment and prayer as you walk by the flowers. They gave their lives fighting for freedom and made the ultimate sacrifice for so many, it’s heartbreaking (especially for someone like me who is super emotional) and makes you really appreciate the acts of someone you have never met. As you continue on through the Garden of the Missing you will discover there are 5 paths that divide the garden – we only walked one and it took us a while to go down. You almost feel this desire and need to read every name and pay respects to each cross or star you walk by. Among the crosses you will see father & son together, brothers side by side and even twin brothers, who all died together fighting for their country. There is a chapel that marks they half way point of the cemetery (for an amazing aerial view click here).
Make sure you stop at the visitor’s center before you walk through the cemetery as they have movies, brochures to take with you with a lot of great detailed information, pictures and more so that you can really soak in everything you see and understand the meanings of it all from the script written on the monuments to the time capsule on site that is not to be opened until 2044. Overall, I believe this was one of my top favorite things out of all of our European vacation. I think it’s something everybody should see once in their lifetime.

There are several other monuments through out Omaha, I’ll post pics and small descriptions of what each one is. Stop at the visitor center to pick up maps of where you can find all the monuments and their meanings. It would be a shame to be in Paris and miss out on this incredible experience…my advice to you is to make every effort possible to go to Normandy to experience something that very few things in life can match. It’s so educational for children and will help them understand how massive this day was for America and our allies. It will teach them to honor, respect & appreciate veterans and their sacrifices.

This will wrap up our Omaha visit. I hope you find it helpful and honorable to all the allied forces who fought that day.

If you have any further questions about something above or would like to know if I have more info on something not listed just message me or comment and I’ll help out the best I can. Happy Travels my fellow Gypsies.

2 thoughts on “Normandy: D-Day Beaches

  1. I remember visiting Normandy for a school trip many years ago – I wish I had been mature enough to appreciate it like you did! Beautiful article, and really helps to capture the spirit of your trip there 😊

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