Omaha Beach – San-Laurent-sur-Mer

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We had initially planned on only spending one day visiting D-Day-related sites during our time in the Normandy region.  We quickly discovered, however, that one day was going to be enough time to see everything that we had hoped to see.  We changed up our itinerary and, rather than driving to Mont St Michel in the morning, we visited Omaha Beach in San-Laurent-sur-Mer first and then headed on to Mont St Michel.  There was quite a bit to see in San Laurent, so the detour was definitely worth it.

We didn’t stop at the D-Day museum, but we did make a quick stop to get a good look at the Sherman Tank and the Czech hedgehog.  It was neat to see them in person after having seen them in movies.


Sherman Tank & Czech Hedgehog

We were surprised to see that the name “Omaha Beach” had stuck — it was the Allies’ code name for the beach.  I’d assume that the beaches had other names prior to the D-Day invasion.

Entrance to Omaha Beach at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer

I was surprised to see so many remembrance crosses — I think they were at every D-Day sight that we visited during our trip.  It was very touching to see how appreciative they are — to this day — of the men and women who fought for their freedom.

Remembrance Crosses

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Pointe-du-Hoc

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The fourth and final stop on our Normandy D-Day road trip was Pointe-du-Hoc.  The Fighting-Texas-Aggie in me had been looking forward to visiting Pointe-du-Hoc all day, as it was Lieutenant Colonel James Earl Rudder who led the Army Rangers to victory at Pointe-du-Hoc.  Rudder retired from the Army as a Major General and was the third president of Texas A&M University.

Pointe-du-Hoc was an important strategic location for the Germans, as it was the high point between Omaha Beach and Utah Beach.  A victory at Pointe-du-Hoc was crucial for the Allied forces in order to prevent the Germans from using Pointe-du-Hoc for observing both Utah and Omaha Beaches.  The 2nd Ranger Battalion was to scale the cliffs by using ropes, ladders, and grappling hooks.  Out of the 225+ American men who landed at Pointe-du-Hoc, 135 died.  The Americans were at a clear disadvantage — imagine being expected to scale cliffs while enemy soldiers stood atop them, armed and shooting downward at you.


Ronald Reagan Quote

Grappling Hook

“The officers said everyone that even gets close to the cliff out to get an award.”

Lieutenant Colonel James Earl Rudder

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Longues-sur-Mer Artillery Battery

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The second stop on our D-Day road trip was a German artillery battery at Longues-sur-Mer.  Construction of the Longues-sur-Mer battery was completed during April 1944, and the battery was an important part of Germany’s Atlantic Wall coastal fortifications.  The battery housed four, 152mm (6 inches!) guns and is located between Omaha and Gold Beaches — two of the D-Day landing zones.  On the night before D-Day, the battery was hit with 1,500 tons of bombs, though none of the guns were disabled by the time D-Day landings began.  British cruisers, Ajax and Argonaut, eventually managed to destroy three of the four guns; the fourth was finally destroyed at 7 PM on D-Day.  The crew of the battery surrendered to the United Kingdom’s 231st Infantry Brigade.

A Field of Shasta Daisies

152mm Gun & Casemate

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Arromanches-les-Bains – Mulberry Harbor

One of the main reasons for planning our trip to France the way we did was so that we could see several sites related to the D-Day invasion of Normandy (a.k.a. Operation Neptune).  The first stop on our D-Day road trip was Arromanches-les-Bains to see what remains of the British mulberry harbor (a.k.a. Mulberry B and Port Winston).

Mulberry harbors were designed by the British during WWII.  They were temporary harbors that were used to facilitate the unloading of troops and supplies — a truly brilliant feat of engineering.  The mulberry harbors were designed to be able to offload enough supplies to sustain Operation Overlord for three months (the amount of time they thought it would take to capture a French port for more permanent use).

The British built Mulberry B (the Gold Beach mulberry harbor), which remained in use for ten months, at which point the Allies captured Antwerp and were able to use its port instead.  Mulberry B had 10 miles of floating roadways that were used to bring both supplies and troops to shore.  It took 600,000 tons of concrete to build Mulberry B.  According to Wikipedia, Mulberry B was used to offload over 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of supplies — the numbers definitely make it easy to see how important Mulberry B was for Operation Overlord.  The Americans were responsible for building an additional mulberry harbor (a.k.a. Mulberry A) at Omaha Beach; however, it was destroyed by the storm that hit the Normandy coast on June 19, 1944.

Portions of Mulberry B can still be seen in Arromanches today.  Several sections of the 10 miles of road are washed up on the beach.  You can also hike up a nearby bluff to get a better view of the Phoenixes (concrete caissons) that remain there today.

Prior to arriving at Gold Beach, it never really dawned on me that the Normandy beaches are actual beaches — beaches that people swim in and play on and use for boating.

Gold Beach at Arromanches

Mulberry Harbor Remains at Arromanches

Mulberry Harbor Remains at Arromanches

Children Playing


Mulberry Harbor Remains (Arromanches in the Background)

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Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial – Part 2

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This is a continuation of my previous post about the Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial.  The first post focused on the memorial, and this post focuses on the cemetery.

There are a total of 9,387 Americans buried in the Normandy American Cemetery.  Of those, 307 people are unidentified.  The cemetery covers 172 acres.  France gave the United States a perpetual concession to the land occupied by the cemetery (free of charge and taxes), over which the American flag flies.

I felt so many different emotions as we wandered through the cemetery — sadness for the lives lost, anger, awe at the amount of love and appreciation still being poured out by the people visiting the cemetery, and ultimately admiration at the selflessness of all of the Allies who fought during WWII.  It definitely made me proud to see so many American flags flying in a foreign country.

“That road to V-E Day was hard and long, and traveled by weary and valiant men. And history will always record where that road began. It began here, with the first footprints on the beaches of Normandy.” – President George W. Bush


We were lucky enough to visit the cemetery on the day before Memorial Day, so I’m unsure whether or not this large quantity of flower arrangements is there daily or if this was something special because of Memorial Day.

Flower Arrangements


Arthur Porche
Louisiana

In Remembrance

Boyd C. Yount
South Carolina

A Comrade in Arms Known but to God

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Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial – Part 1

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Our France roadtrip included a couple of days in the Normandy region.  The one place that I HAD to visit while we were in Normandy was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.  I wanted to go there for so many different reasons — to pay my respects, to see in person the cemetery I’d seen so often in pictures, to be able to put the horrific loss of lives into perspective, to see if the people of Normandy remember the sacrifices made for their freedom…

Our first stop when we got to the cemetery was the visitors center.  The visitors center contains many exhibits — we easily could have spent more time looking at all of the exhibits.  My favorite part of the visitors center was the video (you can watch it here), that included stories about 5 or so men who are buried in the Normandy American Cemetery.  One part of the video in particular stuck in my mind — a young bride was adamant that her husband’s body be brought home to the U.S..  Her husband’s brother was being interviewed, and he remembered telling her that she should let him be buried in Normandy because, “he earned that patch of land.”  After the video was over we walked down to Omaha Beach and then walked back up to the cemetery to walk among the graves of our American heroes.

One thing that I learned in Normandy without a doubt is that they still remember the sacrifices…and to me, that makes the loss of life a little easier to swallow.  We saw flowers and small, wooden crosses with paper poppies on them frequently during our time in Normandy.  It really touched me to see so many visual symbols of their appreciation.

I wish that there were some way that all Americans could visit Normandy, but I know that just isn’t possible.  I hope that my photographs help give everyone a better picture of the cemetery and help to remember all of the members of the greatest generation lost during WWII.

I had a really difficult time narrowing down which photographs to include in this post, so I decided that it would be best to split this into two posts.  This one will focus on the memorial and a subsequent post will focus on the cemetery.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower Quote

The French phrase book shown below was also in a photograph of two American soldiers hanging in the hallway on the second floor of Churchill Hotel in Bayeux.  Being the curious bookworm that I am, I wanted to see the inside of one of these books.  I ended up buying one on eBay.  A war-time language phrasebook is quite different from a phrasebook intended for travelers.  In addition to normal phrase book contents, this WWII phrase book also contains sections on reconnaissance, landing a plane, weapons and ammunition, and tools and supplies.

Military-Issued WWII French Phrase Book

General Omar N. Bradley Quote

Flags of the Allies

“In proud remembrance of the achievements of her sons and in humble tribute to their sacrifices this memorial has been erected by the United States of America”

The garden walls, below, (The Walls of the Missing) contain the names of men who are missing in action.  In some instances, there are bronze buttons next to the names.  The buttons indicate the few men whose remains have been found.  The walls contain the names of 1,557 men.

E pluribus unum

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