Many in our group joined the World War 2 tour specifically for this day. Like my spouse David, some had relatives who landed on June 6, 1944 and have waited a lifetime to get here. It’s difficult to describe all that we saw today; but no one left disappointed.
Maps provided indicate American locations of Utah and Omaha beaches. The British landed at Gold and Sword beaches, Canadians at Juno, and the French assisted at Sword.
The Normandy countryside is beautiful, its architecture unchanged since the war. Churches are narrow and rectangular. Very old cemeteries are surrounded by stone walls.
Beginning at the East
We begin at Pointe du Hoc, east of the main Omaha Beach landing, to view the well-preserved German fortifications—batteries, bunkers, dugouts and craters. It’s our first view of the channel coast. Then on to Utah Beach where many of the British 82nd Airborne glider paratroopers landed. These landings are described in a former post
St. Mere-Eglise is the quaint, well-preserved town that David’s father, Dick, visited after the landing. The battle near here lasted several weeks as the Germans remained active. We buy gifts at the many shops and eat on benches in the town square. Our sandwiches are from a bakery which you can still see in WW2 films and photographs of the street at the time of the landing.
We visit the Airborne Museum. A replica paratrooper still hangs from the church. (Remember Red Buttons in The Longest Day, stuck hanging there, watching the carnage of his comrades below?)
David finally makes it to the Omaha Beach landing site. The beautiful American Cemetery of Normandie, above the site where his father’s 29th Easy Company landed, has a small museum and visitor center.
We file out to the expansive coast at low tide. Most group members take the customary handful of sand from the beach for gifts back home. The sand is placed either in plastic reseal-able bags or the Omaha Beach-labeled glass vials purchased in St. Mere-Eglise shops. We use a bag as David plans to use his woodworking skills to craft gifts holding the sand for our children.
Our walk through the cemetery brings us to a grave site where Quentin and Theodore Roosevelt II rest together, although they perished in different wars, Quentin earlier in The Great War. Graves of the Ryan boys, remembered in the film Saving Private Ryan, are nearby.
Dick had three pals in his company, and none of the three made it past the beach. They were all Ivy-league graduates. Dick graduated high school from a small town in Ohio. We guess he made it into officer training school because of his excellent athletic record. He was playing baseball in the minors when the war started. He never got over the irony that he made it and they didn't or the events of that day.
After stopping along the road to see more German batteries facing the shore, we stop for dinner and more shopping at the small seaside village of Arromanches. Ruins of the German -built Atlantic Wall and artificial harbors are now more of a resort area with lots of shops and small restaurants. As it is Sunday and late fall, many close at 7 pm. We eat at a fast food café of sorts, but with good service, where we enjoy chardonnay wine, and the apple cider that the area is famous for. It’s a short bus trip back to our hotel.
Next time: Paris
Ann Otto writes fiction based on factual as well as oral history. Her debut novel, Yours in a Hurry, about Ohio siblings relocating to California in the 1910’s, is available on-line at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, and at locations listed on her website at www.ann-otto.com. Ann’s academic background is in history, English, and behavioral science, and she has published in academic and professional journals. She loves speaking with groups about all things history, writing, and the events, locations, and characters from Yours in a Hurry. She is currently working on her next novel, Little Diamonds, about Ohio’s Appalachia in the 1920’s, and preparing for future works by blogging about a recent World War 2 European tour. She can be reached through the website, or on Facebook @Annottoauthor or www.Goodreads.com.