During our week-long getaway in Normandy, France, the main thing on our to-do list was to see some of the historic sites from D-Day. While I had seen them back in the 90s, no one else in the family had, and it was something my dad really wanted to see.
While we found ourselves smack-dab in the middle of all the sites after renting a house in the town of Grandcamp-Maisy, my folks thought it was important to take a tour of these areas so as to have someone there to explain the ins and outs of what everything is and how the whole event went down.
It was fairly difficult to find a tour with open slots since people tend to book these way in advance, but we managed to find an opening with the fine folks at Normandy Panorama.
We booked a half-day excursion with Vanessa from the tour company, and were picked up in the nearby town of Bayeux. Quite kind and full of information, she gave us the basics during our trip to the first stop at Pointe du Hoc.
This is where the Rangers landed before D-Day, and while there’s now some speculation as to how the entire thing went down (more on that in another post), it is the site of an heroic effort by these soldiers and a lot of bombing and fighting.
The entire landscape is full of craters from shelling and bombing. Huge, huge craters. It’s hard to grab the depth and amount of these with a camera, but we did our best.
It’s also nuts to look over the edge of the cliffs here and imagine a unit of soldiers having to land at the beach and then scale these heights in order to fight, all while being rained on by gunfire.
There are also some unused German gun positions, as well as bunkers and other artifacts that are all open to being investigated by the masses of tourists that land here every day.
After only having about a half-hour to walk around the sight, we were off to our next destination.
This is probably the most famous of all the D-Day landing sites. It’s also the subject of Saving Private Ryan, so the beach has become even more well-known since the film’s release.
Vanessa spent a great deal of time explaining to us who landed where and how everything played out, and we were given some time to walk the beach and to see the National Guard monument there.
There isn’t much in the way of artifacts or ruins from the battle, but it’s easy to stand on the beach and imagine how crazy and sad and intense it must have been here.
Moving on after a brief walk, we headed to the American Cemetery.
This expansive burial ground just outside the village of Colleville-sur-Mer is the final resting place of nearly 10,000 soldiers who lost their lives on D-Day and during the following battles in Normandy.
It’s actually not the first cemetery, though. There was a previous one a bit west of here, but they moved it in order to create one single cemetery for all the American soldiers who gave their lives in this area while fighting for what’s right.
There are certainly American soldiers from these battles who are buried elsewhere, but this has become the de facto, central location for the cemetery and memorial.
When it was created, the U.S. gave the opportunity to the soldiers’ families to have them buried in the cemetery here or to repatriate their bodies back to the U.S. Something like only 60% of families decided to allow their loved ones to stay here.
Some of them are unidentified and bear the following inscription.
Famous soldiers buried here include Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and interestingly, his brother, Quentin, who died in World War I. Quentin Roosevelt is the only soldier from another war buried in the cemetery, next to his brother.
There’s also a wall containing the names of all the soldiers whose bodies were never found. Each time one of these soldiers’ bodies is located, it’s marked to signify this occurrence. This actually still happens from time to time.
On the grounds, you’ll find the monument pictured at the beginning of this section, as well as a chapel dedicated to the brave people who rest here.
Overall, the cemetery is a profound reminder of the sacrifice given, not only by these soldiers, but also by millions of others during the war.
Our last stop on the tour was just next to the village of Arromanches-les-Bains, in the Gold Beach landing area.
This particular part of the beach was home to Mulberry Harbor, originally one of two false harbors created to land supplies after the events of D-Day.
The other one, at Omaha Beach, was destroyed in a storm, so the remnants of that were used to help build this one.
This area of the beach did not see a landing, as the Allies had it in their plans to create the harbor after the invasion.
It features many sunken concrete platforms and pylons, many of which were towed afloat all the way from England. These served as supports for the unloading of supplies in the months after the battle. In addition, over a dozen sunken ships were used to support it.
It doesn’t look like much in the photos, but I found it rather interesting to see and listen to how it all went down.
The amount of engineering ingenuity and pure manpower it must have taken to build and maintain this is quite impressive.
After our visit to Arromanches, we headed back to Bayeux to end the tour. During the course of five hours or so, we were able to see and learn about quite a few of the most important places and events of D-Day and the surrounding battles.
We all wished we’d had more time at each location, but the tour would easily be stretched to a full day if that were the case. Overall, I’d say that if you want a lot of time to see things, you should either drive yourself or book a longer tour.
We didn’t really want to spend eight or nine ours jumping from place to place, so we were content with our experience, despite the lack of time we had at certain locations.
If you’re looking for a good and informative tour of the area, you should check out the tours given by Vanessa and her team at Normandy Panorama.
They provided us with the knowledge and ability to see, hear, and experience the sheer power of what was before our eyes, at some of the most important D-Day sites.
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Have you ever been to Normandy or any of these World War II sites? If so, what’d you think? If not, what say ye? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!