European DestinationsFranceSites of Remembrance

Sites of Remembance – The Normandy Beaches

Normandy beaches sites of remembrance, Omaha Beach today.

Throughout our history there have been moments that changed the future almost instantaneously.  In modern times there may be no day more memorable, no day that altered the course of mankind more, than D-Day.  Storming the Normandy Beaches was the largest seaborne assault in history.  It was an act of incredible valour and courage by the allied troops, an act that would ultimately lead to the liberation of millions of people, and the loss of thousands and thousands of young soldiers.  Those who survived would be forever changed.

 

Normandy Beaches Sites of Remembrance, British Forces.
British forces landing on D-Day. By No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Midgley (Sgt) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Invasion of the Normandy Beaches

On June 6, 1944, young soldiers from the United States, Great Britain, and Canada, were part of an offense unlike any other in history.  The Normandy Beaches, code-named Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold and Swords, composed the point of attack.  Over 160,000 troops landing on the first day.  It is estimated that there was an onslaught of over 14000 full machine gun rounds were fired by Nazi artillery, as the soldiers struggled to make their way across the beach.  After a long day of carnage, the forces were able to establish a hold by the end of the day.  But there would be over 9,000 casualties.

Normandy Beaches Sites of Remembrance, the US Army.
Courtesy of the United States Army.

It is difficult to imagine loss on such a scale.  On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, artists  Jamie Wardly, Andy Moss, and Sand in Your Eye, would replicate those lost, so that younger generations could honor those lost, and perhaps grasp the cost of their freedom.  Their project, The Fallen 9,000, shows just how incomprehensible the losses of the Normandy invasion were, and they were only the beginning.

 

Normandy Beaches Sites of Remembrance, the Fallen Project.
Used with permission by Jamie Wardly, Andy Moss, and Sand in Your Eye.

Within a week 350,000 troops would have landed, and within 6 weeks, a full million soldiers had landed on the Normandy Beaches.  It would take all of the 10 weeks for these allied forces to break out of the province of Normandy, and into the rest of France, and it would not be until August 21, 1944, that the city of Paris would be liberated.  During that time, there would be over 225,000 casualties.  This battle would be the first of many long, costly and painful battles, but also the one that would go down in history as the turning point of the biggest war in history.

Normandy Beaches Sites of Remembrance American Cemetery.
The American Cemetery in Normandy.

Three full generations have come since that day.  Very few of the young men who were part of the assault on June 6, or who fought in the battle of Normandy which would last into August, are living today.  The children they came home to have grown into old age, and we, their grandchildren are creeping up in years as well.  Although there never seems to be full peace among humans, between nations, we are blessed that our children and grandchildren are growing up in a world of relative peaceful times, in comparison.  

 

Visiting the Normandy Beaches

It is critical that as a people we remember the atrocities that let to that day, and the terrible losses that were wrought upon all mankind.  We must be aware of the political and social movements that contributed to acts that seem unfathomable.  We must recognize the sheer determination and willingness to sacrifice that was required to overcome.   And we must honor those lost, and ensure that the cost paid for our freedoms was not in vain.  

Normandy Beaches Sites of Remembrance Memorial.
Monument to the Allied Forces, Stating Europe was Liberated by their Heroism.

There are a multitude of resources available to learn, from governments, military groups and educational institutions  But there may be no better way to gain comprehension of the scope of D-Day, the impacts of war on a land, than to see first hand.  There may be no better way to relate to the experience of occupation, battle and liberation, than to speak to those whose parents lived through these events.  This touches home for me, as two of my grandfathers were among the soldiers in France.  

Our friend Chris at Explore Now or Never, recently visited the Beaches of Normandy, with memories of her own grandfather.  This is what she had to say:

“I think visiting the Normandy D-Day beaches should be on everyone’s bucket list. Before I went, I spoke to an attorney from the heartland in the U.S. who told me that he spent precious time there with his son who was about to be deployed to the Middle East.

It was a high school graduation present before his newly minted paratrooper headed out. He wanted his son to fully appreciate the sacred task he was about to be charged with and to fully grasp the long tradition of courage and fortitude of so many who had come before him at a critical juncture in our shared history. (Little did he know  at the time that his son would end up in the 82nd Airborne.)

For me, it was a sort of full circle pilgrimage to honor my grandfather’s service in WWII as a French interpreter attached to General Patton’s regiment. I’d heard bits and pieces of his time there my whole life.

How he had slept in both barns and chateaux. How locals saved their only egg for his breakfast so he would have the strength to fight on their behalf.

I was so very moved by my visit. I think anyone who has ever served will feel it even more strongly.”

 

Chris very graciously allowed us to link to the entire story of her Experience at the Normandy Beaches, villages and cemeteries.  We hope that you will read the full experience.  The picture below, which shows her as she explores the remnants of the German bunker at Omaha Beach, will take you to the full article.

 

Normandy Beaches Today

Today the Normandy Beaches are quiet places where visitor go to enjoy the sand and the sun, the local produce from the farms surrounding.   Charming villages line the sea.  It is a beautiful place, with historical sites that meant something, before the war, and still do.  The people live in freedom, still aware that it was only won through great cost.

But Normandy will forever be remembered as the turning point of World War II, the place where the course of man’s history was altered.  The beaches which once had romantic names, such as “the place of the golden sands,”  will forever carry the code names of Operation Overlord - Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold and Sword.

Normandy Beaches Sites of Remembrance Memorial.
Les Braves, symbolizing the American Soldiers rising up from the waters along the Omaha Beach.

Exploring the area, one finds the shrapnel of war is still scattered.  Bunkers, pill boxes and artificial ports remain.  The pockmarks of bombs scar the land, a continuous reminder of the occupation and the battles that took place.  

Memorials to the many lives lost are interspersed throughout, in sometimes unexpected locations.  These are places where honor can be given, reflection can take place.   

And the 13 war cemeteries that in the nearby villages are the final resting place of thousands and thousands of young soldiers.  Seemingly endless rows of crosses line grass, each marking the grave of a young man who sacrificed his life in this place.  It is sobering.    

Normandy Beaches Sites of Remembrance Memorial.

For visitors who want to broaden their experience, to learn, many museums have been built throughout the area by Allied governments, local authorities, and various historical organizations.  There are also many tours available.  For do it yourself experiences, a written guide can be purchased.  For those who desire more in-depth and personal information, both individual and small group tours are available.

Normandy is a beautiful area, and there are many other amazing places to experience.  People who plan a longer period of time in the province, or northeast France, should start with the Normandy Tourism Guide.

Wise men have often said that we must remember our history so that we can move forward, and avoid repeating our mistakes.  This is especially true of our times of atrocity and hatred.  We must always remember World War II, and we must honor those who sacrificed to end it.

Chris said above that she believes all people should try to visit the Normandy Beaches.  Normandy tells the story of mankinds best, and worst.  Sadly, there are many other places which hold such stories, and I do agree that we should all walk grounds that tell these stories, that we should confront and ponder the horrible actions of our kind, but also embrace the strength and goodness that we are capable of.  We may never understand, but we can learn, and go forward with hopes of peace and freedom for all before us.

 
 
Chris Román is a freelance writer based in San Diego who is on a mission to inspire us to travel more…to connect with the people and places that bring more joy and meaning to our lives. She blogs at www.explorenowornever.com.

2 thoughts on “Sites of Remembance – The Normandy Beaches

    1. As an American, I always think of beaches as tropical, but my European friends love the beaches along the English Channel and North Sea.

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