The only outing that we had planned ahead of time in France, was a day trip to Normandy. This was tops on my hubby’s list of “must do”. A super comfy, two hour train ride out of Paris, and we were met by our tour guide from Overlord Tours. (Incidentally, “Overlord” was the name of the Allied invasion of western Europe.)
Our tour group was small, so we moved from location to location quickly and packed a WHOLE lot of info into one day. Our oldest boy had just completed 7th grade and studied World War II in History. Our middle child is heading into 7th grade this coming fall, so this trip was quite timely. We may have our parent cards revoked, but prior to traveling, we allowed our boys to watch the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan so that they could get a graphic idea of the sacrifice that was made on D Day. Our hope was that they would better understand the gravity of that day.
Our tour guide was outstanding. She was so knowledgeable and passionate. We were gifted story after story of plans, failures, and miracles. I learned so much. The high level of knowledge that I had prior to the tour was humbling, but now, I have an even deeper appreciation for all of the sacrifices made by the Allied forces.
First stop on the tour was Omaha Beach at low tide. The beach was endless and wide. It was easy to see what an impossible mission faced the men that day. It was also spooky and stunning to see it empty. Granted the weather was chilly, but there were no beach combers; no one just hanging out for the day. This large sea front was basically deserted with the exception of a few other tour groups. It was very sobering.
Our next location was the gorgeous National Cemetery. Beautifully appointed and maintained acreage that is the final resting place of over 9000 Americans and memorial for over 1500 more who were never recovered. Every blade of grass, every flower, every decorative tile, every marble grave maker maintained with absolute reverence. I gave my husband some time alone here. He actually served in the 29th Infantry Division in the 1990’s. The 29th was part of the beach landing at Omaha Beach. Coupled with the 1st Division, by the end of D Day 2400 of their men had become casualties.
We moved on to the quaint commune of Sainte Mere Eglise. Home of the famous story of paratrooper John Steele whose parachute caught precariously ON the pinnacle of the church tower. They even have a mannequin in his stead depicting that crazy “landing”. This sweet little town was chalked full of recreations of that Allied invasion. It was really something to see.
Next, on to Utah Beach and more fascinating stories. I’m not sure why, but this locale had a less eerie feel. On display was an actual Higgins boat. These were the amphibious boats that “our boys” used to make their landing. Interestingly, these boats were made entirely of wood, with the exception of the metal off ramp. They were merely painted gray to give the enemy the illusion that they were made of steel. Not a shield for those poor boys, by any stretch.
Finally, we finished at Angoville. This little village was quite charming. A heart warming story was shared here of two American medics who were charged with tending to American and German wounded. It was a nice way to end a bit of a heavy day; with a beautiful story of the good nature of humanity despite the terrors of war.
Each location was LOADED with interesting tales and harrowing individual operations; details of fatal missteps and exciting human interest stories. Icing on the historical cake, for me, was getting to go inside two fantastic churches from the 11th and 12th centuries. Both churches are still in use today and are home to gorgeous artifacts, statuary and stained glass windows, some of which with decidedly military influence.
I deliberately did not give detailed accounts or share specific stories in this post. There are just too many. My hope is that one day, you may walk that hallowed ground, hear the stories for yourself, and take in the enormity of the price that was paid for the freedom of all who suffered at the hands of oppression and military aggression.
1 Overlord Tours van
2 Saving Private Ryan movie poster
3 Omaha Beach
4 American National Cemetery – Normandy, France
5 Church of Sainte Mere Eglise
6 WWII statue at Utah Beach
7 Photo from https://shoestringweekends.wordpress.com/tag/higgins-boat
8 Interior of Angoville-au-Plain Church
9 Stained glass windows from Church of Sainte Mere Englise
10 Portion of the arch from American National Cemetery – Normandy, France