Europe Part 2: Normandy Beaches

We were the heartiest two in our group of eight to make the three-hundred-mile road trip from Paris to the Normandy Beaches and back. That’s probably why the guide started us out in the last row of his van and kept us there during our twelve-hour odyssey. It was a “moving” day from having to climb in and out of the van a few dozen times, but also from standing in the place where history changed on June 6, 1944.

normandyThis map highlights our route.

The tour began at Le Mémorial de Caen, which is a museum and war memorial, and ended at Utah Beach. (Actually our first stop was a gas station complete with amenities such as fresh croissants and pain au chocolat.)

Today, the sites near the five Normandy beaches where Allied soldiers landed in 1944 are sleepy tourist towns. But in 1944 they were the destination of more than a million troops — U.S., British, Canadian, Polish, and French — seeking an entry point to engage the Germans in France, which was under Hitler’s control.

What happened June 6?  Allies stormed five beaches along the Normandy coast. Their goal was to move on to Paris and then to Germany.

Ann and Greg in front of maps of landing

Ann and Greg in front of diagrams of the landing

Practically none of the first-day objectives were met. Rough seas, strong currents, cloudy skies, and an unexpected number of German machine gun placements interfered with plans to attack by air and sea and cost thousands of lives that day.

 

 

Nearly 10,000 graves at American Cemetery

American Memorial Cemetery

Omaha Beach, one of two assigned to U.S. troops, turned out to be the most difficult to cross, with many casualties occurring the first morning. Allied casualties on all five beaches that day totaled 10,000. Many civilians also died.

peaceful Omaha beach

Omaha Beach, peaceful 70 years later

The story of the Normandy invasion is one of heroism, plans gone awry, perseverance and eventual success. Many of the soldiers were young (some as young as 17) and innocent. They expected the mission to go easy and end quickly. Instead, anything that could go wrong did. Yet, ultimately, the Allies liberated France. People in this part of France are still grateful for the help they and their ancestors received during that era.

Thank you to British soldiers who landed at Gold Beach

Thank you to British soldiers who landed at Gold Beach

Arromanches, site of Gold Beach landing

Arromanches, site of Gold Beach landing and the restaurant where we ate lunch

 

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About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness.
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