If you looked at my Instagram posts from the last two weeks, you would probably assume that all we’ve done in France is eat baguettes. That’s not entirely the case though– we’ve traveled around and seen the sites while eating baguettes.
Some of the things high on our to see list in Normandy was the D-Day landing sites. Our rental house is just down the street from Sword Beach, which was the most eastern of the five landing beaches and was taken by British, Canadian, and French troops. It’s mostly just a great beach for families to enjoy now, but all along the length of it there are memorials and tributes to the battle and the men who fought it.
On Saturday, we headed for Omaha Beach, which was the main landing site for othe American forces. To give a little pop culture context- if you’ve seen Saving Private Ryan, it’s the site of the first battle. The day was overcast but not uncomfortably cool, and we walked along the beach after lunch. There are remains of the bombed out German fortifications at the far end of the beach, and a pier that is build on part of the temporary dock built by the Allies for access during the invasion of Normandy.
The American Cemetery
This was one of the most sobering places I’ve ever been. There are more than 9,000 crosses in this graveyard, each one representing a husband, father, son, and brother. And there were no words for the feelings as I walked through with my two boys.
If you go, take the time to walk through the visitor’s center/ museum. There are several films and quite a few displays that are very well done.
Our last D-Day site was Pegasus Bridge, captured by British paratroopers. It was strategically necessary to take it intact so that the Allied forces could get their tanks over the Arne river into the country. The original bridge isn’t actually spanning the river anymore- they replaced it a few years ago with one that looks nearly identical, but is larger. You can go to the Pegasus Memorial to see the original bridge, as well as a small collection of other military vehicles, large guns, etc.
For some reason, Prentice has developed an affinity for the “ganks.” It probably has something to do with really large wheels.
Things to Know…
If you’re planning to visit the D-Day sites, there are a few things you should know before you go.
- The beaches cover over 50 miles of coastline, and it takes a long time to drive in between. For instance, from where we were on Sword, it was about an hour to Omaha, and would have been another 45-55 minutes to get to Utah.
- There are a million and one museums. We’re not really museum people (especially with a tired two year old in tow), so we only did the American Cemetery musem, which is free, and the Pegasus Bridge. Admission to most is usually between €6-8, so not too expensive, but you may want to pick the areas that interest you most.
- Watch The Longest Day (and maybe Saving Private Ryan) before you go. I’m serious. TLD isn’t a very entertaining movie, in my opinion, but it at least gave me a general idea of what was going on where. Some of it didn’t make much sense while watching, but I at least vaguely know what happened at any given site. SPR isn’t really an overview of the whole battle, but it gives you a very realistic (if somewhat gritty) picture of what the battle entailed.
- Always take a light jacket with you. Even in July, we had a cold morning at Omaha and a warm afternoon at the cemetery.