2011 marks the 67th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy, which was the major turning point of WWII in Europe. Early in the morning of June 6, 1944, the largest military operation in history began as 135,000 Allied soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy, to begin the liberation of Europe, and change the course of history. The Normandy invasion was a true international alliance, with troops from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.
Allied Forces disembark from amphibious landing craft LCVP. Photo by Robert F. Sargent, US Coast Guard, provided by USCG Collection in US National Archives.
France will never forget the sacrifice of Allied soldiers who came to free them from Nazi occupation on D-Day, and each year, French residents of Normandy host numerous commemorative events to mark this historic date (scroll down for amazing video – I cry everytime I watch it).
Normandy pulled out all the stops in 2009 to honor and remember the “Greatest Generation”, as many recognized this could be the last major milestone for veterans to re-visit the site. However, there are always commemorations every year to remember the extreme sacrifice.
One of the many things I love about the French, they are great “preservers” of history, with such dignity and reverence. Standing on Omaha Beach, or seeing the German cannons still embedded in Longue-sur-Mer, and the cliffs and bomb craters at Point du Hoc, you feel the years slip away, and imagine what it was like for these brave young boys, so far from home, and so cognizant of the imminent danger all around them.
These are some of my favorite photos of the region:
Allied troops were met by German cannons embedded in the heavily fortified cement bunkers at Longues-sur-Mer
Cliffs at Point du Hoc, where U.S. Army Rangers 2nd Battalion used fireman’s ladders and grappling hooks to invade the German stronghold. Two-thirds of the Rangers perished in the assault.
American cemetery at Colleville sur Mer
Bomb craters at Pointe du Hoc
American Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer...9,387 simple white marble crosses and Stars of David mark the final resting place of the brave men and women who lost their lives in the conflict.
Unfortunately, American troops suffered the largest casualties, because of their landing position on Omaha beach.
Caen Peace Memorial, extremely well done museum documenting conflicts throughout the 20th century.
As a tribute to peace, this sculpture says it all.
Non-profit group “The French Will Never Forget” organized an extraordinary gathering of 2,500 people on Omaha Beach, July 4, 2007, to commemorate D-Day. The crowd formed on the sand the letters of the phrase: “FRANCE WILL NEVER FORGET”, aimed at honoring the fallen American heroes who sacrificed their lives to liberate France from Nazi occupation.
“Our goal is, once again, to demonstrate the deep respect and gratitude of the people of France, for their recovered freedom thanks to America’s extreme sacrifices during the Second World War and which no one can, or will ever forget.” declared the co-founders of the organization. Click here to watch the incredible video of the event.
Here is the link to the Normandy Tourism Office
, and where you will find a schedule of events and all the “must see” sights in Normandy.
There are so many sites to tour here in Normandy, I would allow a full day for the D-Day sights, one day for Bayeux, plus a 3rd
day to take in the magnificent Mont St. Michel. You could do the D-Day visit on your own, but I strongly recommend choosing either a full day or half-day guided tour by one of several reputable companies, in order to fully appreciate the history and importance. Rick Steves site
describes the Caen Peace Memorial, and mentions several of the top tour companies (sidebar), so choose your tour, and reserve in advance.
To understand the historical perspective of D-Day, and help set the tone, go rent The Longest Day, and Saving Private Ryan. Sobering…..sad……but essential to remember the past, and honor those who served.