Normandy American Cemetery (February 2016).

I lived in the Normandy region of France for two years when I taught abroad. Although it’s not as sought-after as other parts of France for work, Normandy was a place I specifically chose to be in as I was fascinated by its history, particularly D-Day. I was fascinated by the connection that France had with the US, as they’d fought together against Nazi Germany. I was keen to see the place for myself, to see the subtle “American-ness” of my home country in that of France, which ultimately became my second country at heart.

It was almost six months into living in Normandy my first year that I finally ended up going to check out the D-Day Landing Beaches, famous in textbooks and tourism. I went during the last weekend of February with “N,” a fellow assistante; the D-Day beaches were part of an extensive trip we’d planned out, as it was sandwiches between a brief stay in Caen and le-Mont-St-Michel.

We had a wild, four-night adventure of catching trains, buses, and BlaBlaCars from Le Havre to Caen to Bayeux to le-Mont-St-Michel. Getting around wasn’t easy without a car, as public transport can be limited the more rural you went. Also nearly missing our BlaBlaCar to le-Mont-St-Michel and getting stalked by creepy folks at the Caen train station weren’t exactly pleasant… It was stressful at times, but we held each other accountable and managed to make it to our destinations and have fun in the end.

The trip lasted from Friday to the following Monday. However, I actually left on Thursday afternoon, as soon as my last class got out; I’d actually already packed my stuff prior to work that day, so it was just a matter of returning to my flat to grab my belongings and catch the 45-minute bus ride to Le Havre, where I stayed overnight at N’s flat. We caught our BlaBlaCar to Caen the next morning with a chatty French couple, and our conversation with them in Frenglish made the 90-minute ride a breeze.

After being dropped off at the Caen train station, N and I caught the next train over to Bayeux, which was a quick, 30-minute ride. Bayeux would be our gateway to the D-Day Beaches, as buses left every so often to take visitors over. We only had a brief look near the Bayeux train station before we had to leave, so we didn’t truly get to visit the town. A shame, really, because I’ve heard that Bayeux not only was historically-important during WWII (i.e. first major town to be secured by the Allies), but also for its beautiful, 11th-century tapestries depicting William the Conqueror’s victories. I’ll have to return someday to properly visit, for certain!

N and I took bus 70 at noon to Omaha Beach, the closest D-Day Beach from Bayeux. Omaha Beach is also one of the two American landing beaches (the other Utah Beach) and, for the both of us being Americans, it was humbling to arrive on the foreign, yet familiar land on which thousands of lives were lost, over 70 years ago. It was a freezing and windy afternoon in February, yet surprisingly, the ocean remained eerily calm. As if it was a memorial to the over 2000 US soldiers’ lives lost, in the name of democracy and freedom.

I had expected the D-Day Beaches to be littered with remains of cannons, tanks, and other weaponry from the war days, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, the beaches were “cleaned up” following WWII, with the remnants hauled off to be stored at a nearby museum dedicated to the World War. N and I did see plenty of memorials placed proudly along the coast to remind visitors of the past traumas and victories of war.

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There were other D-Day Beaches to check out besides the American ones, including Gold Beach and Sword Beach for the British and Juno Beach for Canadians. However, they were too far for us to walk to, and we also wanted to check out the Normandy American Cemetery before the sun set. The cemetery was located three kilometres (1.9 miles) from Omaha Beach, so we headed there along the sandy beach, all the while enjoying the beauty of the coastline of the French Northwest.

20160226_150239Desolate shores of the D-Day Beaches.

We made it to the Normandy American Cemetery around 16:00. Although we didn’t go inside the actual museum to see its exhibits, we did wander the tombstones of the cemetery outside. Seeing scores of tombstones lined up perfectly side-by-side, with the setting sun in the background, made for a somber atmosphere, as well as reflection on the lives lost. Strange and morbid as it sounds, I believe the soldiers buried in the ground symbolize a return to the beginning, as we started from earth and will end with earth.

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PS The Normandy American Cemetery is actually considered a piece of US territory, as the French have granted this land of 172.5 acres to Americans. So technically, N and I were “back home in the US” for an afternoon!

By 17:00, N and I more-or-less were done for the day, so we returned to Bayeux, then to Caen before catching an evening BlaBlaCar to le-Mont-St-Michel. Our day spent at Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery was an enriching one, as we got to see the site that’d been so widely-discussed in our history textbooks in school. We were able to be physically-present, and to truly acknowledge the tragedy and triumphs of that fateful day on June 6, 1944 of those who preceded our generation. The D-Day Beaches are worth the trip over. as means of experiencing what it means to fight for something greater than yourself, for somebody else.

— Rebecca

33 thoughts on “Destination: D-Day Beaches of Normandy, France

    1. Like you, I visited the D-Day beaches only once and a while back. I had a brief time there, so a revisit is definitely needed to take them all in! You’re geographically-closer to the beaches than I am, so I’m sure you’ll return soon. 😊

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  1. This is an interesting experience, for sure. We might need to see such places more often, to remember nothing is for granted, as people fought and died for our freedom. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. The D-Day beaches might look unassuming today, but its history is really something to marvel at. I think it’s important to visit such sites not just to say that you visited it, but also to pay respect to those who’d fallen and gave us the life we live today. Such places really make you think about the mortality of life!

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  2. As much as we wanted to cross over to Normandy, visit D-day beaches and learn more about the history, while exploring Brittany, due to the time restraints, we didn’t get a chance to fulfil that chance! One of the places where we had an opportunity to witness remnants of the Nazi’s occupation of France was in Hossegor where empty, dank, and graffitied bunkers lingered along the coast. These eerie concrete structures provided a stark reminder of the hardships that World War II brought upon the world. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva

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    1. I think the bunkers are also a great reflection of the region’s tragic history; you can also see plenty of them littered along Normandy’s coastline. Whereas the D-Day beaches are an abstract reminder of the lives lost, the bunkers are tangible ones to constantly revisit and pay respect to. Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day, Aiva. 😊

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    1. You have to thank history, tragic as it was, for making these beaches some of the most-famous in the world today. Its sweeping and brooding coastline is definitely metaphorical for what had happened almost 80 years ago, which now has been immortalized.

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  3. This is something I’d really like to see one day. Seems like you’d need at least a few days just to take in the various beaches, cemeteries and museums. Much of France stands as a gaping travel void for me, as I’ve only been to Paris and Lille. Normandy seems as good a region as any to see a bit more of the country. Thanks for planting it in my mind.

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    1. I think you can spend an extended weekend in the area, to visit a few of the beaches and museums, as well as neighboring towns like Bayeux. Normandy is a solid place to start, and it’s not far off from Paris to take the train over. Hopefully, one day for you, Leighton!

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  4. Visiting the D-Day beaches is certainly moving and forms a solid history lesson. It is also a way of illustrating the historical links between France and its allies in the face of adversity. Thanks for the trip.

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    1. Yes, the D-Day beaches are a history lesson in real form! Having only learned about them through textbooks, visiting the beaches is such a different experience to be had. It’s the abstract versus the concrete, and I think the latter offers a more-personable education to it all. Thanks for reading!

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  5. Wow, this would be heartbreaking but also fascinating to visit. My grandfather fought in the Battle of the Bulge, so being here for me would be a piece of family history… one day I’ll have to make the trip. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Living in Normandy for two years gave me time to explore as much of the region as I could, including venturing as far south as le Mont-Saint-Michel…the D-Day beaches were extraordinary, and I hope you can return to Normandy to check them out. Let me know if you want any recommendations should you head over to that part of France!

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  6. I have a feeling I will make it there one day, not only because I intend to see every part of France, but because the husband loves the history of the World Wars. I’m sure it will be a very moving experience. I’ll be sure not to go in February, though. Brrr. 🙂

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    1. I’m certain you’ll make it to the D-Day beaches sooner than you think! Besides looking forward to returning to France, learning a bit more about its history in the past century will surely be an enriching experience. Perhaps you can go in June, when the weather’s warmer and near the date of when that fateful day happen…

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    1. I didn’t know about those in Belgium or Luxembourg! Granted, history tends to focus on the bigger events (especially those in northern France), so others often are forgotten. It’d be fascinating to check out some of the lesser-known ones elsewhere!

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