"There has never been a military operation remotely approaching the scale and the complexity of D-Day. It involved 176,000 troops, more than 12,000 airplanes, almost 10,000 ships, boats, landing crafts, frigates, sloops, and other special combat vessels -- all involved in a surprise attack on the heavily fortified north coast of France, to secure a beachhead in the heart of enemy-held territory so that the march to Germany and victory could begin. It was daring, risky, confusing, bloody, and ultimately glorious...there on the beaches of Normandy I began to reflect on the wonders of those ordinary people whose lives were laced with the markings of greatness."
- Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation
For me, walking the beaches of Normandy and learning more about the sacrifices that took place there, was one of the very best parts of our Europe trip.
We took a guided tour, so our guide picked us up at our hotel in Bayeux. The drive to the beaches from our hotel was one of the most beautiful drives I've ever been on. So many times I wished I could have asked the driver to pull over for just a minute so I could take a picture. The rolling hills, stone cottages, and quaint little farms that dotted the landscape was breathtaking.
Our first stop was Pointe du Hoc, the highest point between Utah and Omaha Beaches. It was the location of six canons that were captured from France. On D-Day, a group of Army Rangers scaled the cliffs and captured the grounds.
One of the guns that was on Pointe du Hoc
It was almost surreal to see the bunkers that the German's fired from during the battle
"You are about to embark upon the great crusade toward which we have striven these many months...the eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped, and battle hardened..." General Dwight D. Eisenhower
The view from the inside of the bunker, looking out on the English Channel
A tribute to the Rangers who fought so valiantly, hangs inside the bunker
Prior to D-Day, the Allies bombed the beaches hoping to destroy the German cannons. Massive craters like the one above were a common sight.
The serenity of the September afternoon we visited was quite the contrast to the day that made these beaches famous.
Our next stop was Omaha Beach - one of the two beaches American forces were charged with invading in Operation Overlord.
70 years ago, the blood of thousands of Americans turned this water red. Now clear waves crash against the sand, I will be forever grateful for those me who loved liberty more than life.
Our final stop was the American Cemetery - the land is considered U.S. soil.
"Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those who don't return." Colin Powell
They had names...Daniel, Harold, William, Henry, John...they came from every part of the country...Texas, Vermont, Minnesota...they left jobs and hobbies, school and families... I wish I knew more of their stories...
"To this we owe the high resolve: the cause for which they died shall live"
"The road to V-E Day was hard and long, and travelled 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
After our tour, we meandered through the streets of Bayeux. A charming town that has been witness to so much history. Freedom. Occupation. Liberation. If cities could tell stories, I'd sit down and listen to this one's.
I loved all the flags that were flying everywhere. It is a grateful little town that is bent on remembering it's history.
Because there were no factories in Bayeux, it is one of the only towns in Normandy that wasn't bombed out during WWII, thus keeping its old fashioned charm.
This is one of my very favorite photos from the whole trip. If it weren't for the cars in the street, you could imagine you were back in 1944.
We ate dinner at a lovely outdoor cafe. I had an omelet with eggs, ham, and cheese, fresh from the local farms. It was amazing. We followed it up with a Nutella crepe for dessert.
The Bayeux Cathedral, home to the Bayeux tapestry. A 230 foot long embroidered cloth depicting the events of the Norman invasion.
Another one of my favorites. I love the two little doves in the window. To Paris I was indifferent, but to the quaint, beautiful French countryside, I'd return in a heartbeat.
My France narrative wouldn't be complete without giving a nod to a French gentleman whose name I don't know. Upon arriving at the train station in Bayeux, we were trying to figure out how far away our hotel was. I asked the woman at the information desk, and although she didn't speak much English and I don't speak French, we communicated the best we could through gestures and a map. She gave me a rough idea of where we needed to go and said it would take us about 10 minutes. So we set out, bags in tow (my suitcase had a broken wheel at this point in the trip, so Dan was literally dragging it behind him). We followed her instructions and ended up on a little gravel path along a highway. At which point the French gentleman aforementioned pulled over, opened his trunk, and motioned for us to come over and put our bags in. He asked us where we were staying and assured us he would get us there. Which he did - saving us many miles of walking, for which we were very grateful.