Today’s post is written in remembrance of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, June 6th, 1944. D-Day marked the beginning of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France, a pivotal moment in history that forever changed lives around the world.
The battles fought along the beaches of coastal Normandy that June were crucial to the outcomes of World War II. These beaches and the D-Day sites scattered along them, will change the way you view events that dramatically altered our world. They will stir up emotions you didn’t even know you felt about this infamous day in world history.
It was these very D-Day beaches and sites that I consider it an honor to have visited, my two then-younger boys in tow. So without further adieu, here are my five must-see D-Day sites for your next sojourn to Normandy, France.
1. Utah Beach
Over 20,000 Allied soldiers arrived at Utah Beach on D-Day. The German response that day resulted in less than 300 men lost during the landing. However, in the following three weeks of battle these 20,000 soldiers endured, there was one casualty suffered for every 33 feet of land advanced.
Utah Beach was strategically important for the capture of the port of Cherbourg, which was large enough to handle the vast amounts of equipment needed for the Normandy invasion. Today, it’s a much calmer, almost serene, beach. Until you reflect upon the chaos that occurred here 70 years ago.
2. The American Cemetery
On June 8th, 1944, the U.S. Army established a temporary cemetery for fallen American soldiers near Colleville-sur-Mer. After the war, The American Cemetery was established a short distance from the original site, on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. This 172 acres of sacred ground contains the graves of 9,387 U.S. soldiers, most of whom lost their lives during the Normandy invasion.
One can’t help but be affected by the row upon row of stark, white crosses. or the Walls of the Missing, where the names of 1,557 missing Americans are inscribed. Chilling.
3. Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach was where the U.S. Army’s 1st and 29th infantry divisions landed. This five mile stretch of beach was the location of some of the most brutal fighting on D-Day. The landing didn’t go as planned for the U.S. infantry, and heavy casualties were extolled upon them as they fought their way across Omaha Beach.
Walking along Omaha Beach today, it’s hard to imagine that 70 years ago, this beach was the scene of such carnage. Not until standing inside a German bunker up on the hill does one truly appreciate how such terror was reigned down upon those down below.
4. The Longues-Sur-Mer Battery
The Longes-Sur-Mer Battery was key to the German coastal fortifications in France. Armed with four 152-mm navy guns with enormous firing range, this battery could hit targets located at Omaha Beach, twelve miles away, and Gold Beach, six miles away.
Walk along the battery remains. View the beaches as the German soldiers did on June 6th. Though heavily bombed the night before and well into D-Day, the Longues Sur Mer Battery was still able to fire off 170 shots at the Allied Forces.
5. Juno Beach
Juno Beach was a combined British and Canadian attack, with the goal to move inland and cut off the Caen-Bayeaux road. Due to rising tides, the landing did not go in the Allied Force’s favor. Landing crafts took heavy damage from submerged mines, and the first wave of the Canadian infantry experienced heavy losses under the never-ending barrage of German firepower.
Though considered a military success, the price was high in lives lost at Juno Beach. Hard to imagine when walking along this sandy strip of the Atlantic Ocean.
Normandy – A History Lesson For Every Age
The World War II D-Day sites of Normandy are a must-see destination for any age. Though my boys were on the younger side when we traveled to Normandy, and despite my concerns that the true impact of what happened here 70 years ago, would be lost on them, it was not.
Our two days exploring the D-Day sites helped shape the way our children think about the world. As parents, it reinforced the lessons we learned about that difficult, world-changing moment in time.
To this day, I consider it our privilege and honor to have spent those two days touring the D-Day sites. Though our youngest was only five at the time, he remembers. Our oldest became more in-tune with world events. And we were reminded of how important it is to have our children experience sites such as this.
Honoring Those Who Where “There” in June 1944
70 years have passed since D-Day, and time is ticking. Those that remember the invasion are becoming fewer and fewer with each passing year. If you are fortunate enough to meet someone who was there during June 1944, talk with them! You will be mesmerized by their stories. It will be an experience you won’t forget.
We did not have the honor to talk directly with either the soldiers nor French citizens who were in Normandy in June of 1944. However, we stayed at a circa 1650 working farm turned bed and breakfast near the town of Villes Bocage, the scene of heavy fighting just after the D-Day landings.
Our French hosts were descendants of those who experienced D-Day first hand, and had stories to share from their family. And in the farm barn, WWII memorabilia collected in the months and years following the Normandy Invasion. An experience well worth the two nights’ stay.
Have You Experienced the D-Day Beaches?
Whatever your vacation style, no matter your age, whether you only have one day or five days, Normandy and the D-Day beaches are walks through a not-so-distant past, and a destination that must be experienced in person.
Have you been to Normandy? Have you walked along a D-Day beach? Would you bring your kids? Share your experiences with us in the Comments section below.
Images from C.Biederman and Wikipedia (Cemetery, Bunker, Battery, Juno).