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Normandy, France – The Beaches, Battles, and Memories That Will Never Be Forgotten

When we were standing in the entrance of our Hotel in Paris waiting for our local tour guide to pick us up (yes, you can do a day trip to Normandy from Paris – sweet!), the hotel receptionist found out where we were headed to and where we were from. He  said to us, “I just want to thank your grandparents, great-grandparents, and uncles and cousins who fought in the War. Without them and the help of the United States, we (the French people) would not be speaking the French language today.”

Meaning:  If the United States hadn’t joined the Allied Forces and intervened, Germany would have taken over France and it is likely that today they would be speaking German.

The kind receptionist also said that many people do not understand or know enough about D-Day and it is not taught enough in schools (I agree!). He said that he takes his family to Normandy every so often, and he will stop the car if he sees a grave somewhere along the road and explain to his daughter why that person died there and what they were fighting for.

I will remember that guy forever.

D-Day – June 6th 1944; A turning point in World War II, D-Day was the largest attack by land, sea, and air in history.

The battle that took place along the sixty mile stretch of coast along Normandy, France, was an absolute massacre. Taking on and securing one of the five beaches known as Omaha Beach, was the task of the United States troops. While some soldiers (French, British, Canadian, to name a few) did land at other beaches on the coast, Omaha Beach was hit the hardest. The winds were heavy and the tide was extremely rough. There was nothing going in favor of the United States (or the allied forces). German artillery fired into the troops so fast, that it was an unimaginable scene. THOUSANDS of soldiers died before they made it from the water to the land. The exact number of casualties is unknown. Because of (and many thanks to) the high numbers of allied forces that invaded France (the U.S. playing a huge role in this), and mistakes made by Hitler, France was liberated and the war ended.

I had heard before that in traveling to Normandy, seeing the beaches that such an important (and SAD) event in history happened on, is a completely moving experience. Let me tell you that could not be more true.

In Normandy, it rains ALL of the time. It just so happened the day that we went, the weather was sunny and beautiful. Oh, the irony..

Perched above Omaha Beach stands the United States Cemetery, where over 9,000 U.S. Soldiers were put to rest including 33 sets of brothers. This is just one of many cemeteries and some of the bodies were even returned to the United States to their families to bury.

The opening scene of the movie Saving Private Ryan was shot here.

Each and every one of the white crosses displays the solider’s name, birth date, death date, and the state that they were from. If the person was Jewish, the Star of David was used instead of a cross.

If the body was unable to be identified, this was the cross and wording assigned.

In the cemetery you will also find stories written on walls, and a Memorial statue (queue tears) of the (almost) naked body of a man in an ascending position, made to look like he is rising out of the water. It is a representation of the youth of men rising out of the waves, because they were taken from this earth far too soon.

Just beyond the cemetery lies Omaha Beach. So calm and beautiful, you would have never guessed in your wildest dreams such a tragic event occurred here. There are still ~13 tanks at the bottom of the ocean in the location of which they sank. They are left there as an underwater Memorial. German troops stationed on the tops of the rocky cliffs could see their enemy coming long before they were spotted.

Omaha Beach
Notice the holes in the land where the artillery fire hit.
German Bunkers still remain scattered throughout the area. You can go inside of them.

Once you’ve finished taking all of this in, grab a seat and enjoy some French cuisine as you try to wrap your head around what you’ve just experienced. Normandy is known for Camembert cheese. The small town of Bayeux (just a very short drive from the Beaches), has timber farm houses, and a main town area. The town includes the Cathedral of Bayeux and some delicious little eateries nearby that serve up many dishes incorporating the Camembert cheese. I had a ham steak with Camembert cheese sauce drizzled on top as an main dish. Yum!

Whether you know the history of D-Day or not, I suggest you see Normandy, France and Omaha beach regardless. Just standing in the United States cemetery staring at all of those white crosses will teach you something. I’m not a betting person, but I would be willing to bet that your eyes start to tear. Standing there staring into the waters of Omaha beach – I assure you that you will feel it.

Barbed wire sits where it was left many years ago.

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