Unlike in history, this time our American visit was all for fun (though, for some, there were a few tears as well!)
My mom and sister—as stated in my last post—are traveling through the EU starting in Paris, but as luck would have it, I was able to catch up with them traveling down to Bayeux. This is technically my youngest sister’s trip (as she never did a People2People program during middle school) which means that she selected the main theme of our tour: World War II.
Our first few days were spent running around and getting the lay of the land in Bayeux and Caen—we ended up just wandering around the castle which was awesome and getting lunch after failing at finding our way to the WWII memorial and museum (which was expensive!)— which was a lovely way to start our trip. Every museum we visited was well worth it and getting the three stop museum ticket really is paid off.
The third day in the Normandy area was a long but rewarding one.
We booked an American D-Day Tour with Bayeux shuttle which takes you through various important historical locations with commentary through both the very nice and knowledgeable tour guide and an automated multimedia guide called Mike.
This tour takes you through six scheduled stops (a seventh location is added in if your group keeps to the schedule!) with commentary and free time along the way. Being the American tour, all of these locations and history discussed involved the role that the Americans played in WWII, especially on D-Day.
The first stop takes you to La Cambe German War Cemetery. While this is a very short stop, all the information you get from why this is set up the way it is to information on bodies still being found across Europe, makes this really interesting—though for time and space I won’t go too deep into any details!
Next, we hit Sainte-Mere-Englis which many people know from the film The Longest Day starring big names such as John Wayne. There was a lot of history and sites to see in this little square. For me, a few ‘must not miss’ sites are: the gate across the square from the church which still has clear bullet indents from the historic, badly aimed paratrooper drop which can be seen in the very unique stain glass windows inside the church (yes, another must see). Finally, look up the clock tower of the church and you’ll see a dummy paratrooper hanging from one corner—fun fact: this is from the film mentioned above, but also happened in real life, except this soldier—John Steele—actually attached to the opposite side of the steeple. The more you know!
The third stop took us to the Normandy coast starting with Utah Beach. We learned at this site—as well as many others—through many lucky breaks and happenstances, really played their part in Allied successes. In this case, the fact that they landed on the wrong beach—which was far less fortified and led to one of the main access roads—and led to the great quote by Teddy Roosevelt Jr. “We’ll start the war from right here!” Quite the pragmatist.
Because we were all on time, here’s where we added in the bonus stop: Angoville-Au-Plain. Whether you are doing this specific tour or are off exploring on your own, this is a great and quick stop with an inspiring story attached. The story tells of two Doctors who risked their lives for their patients—both allies and German soldiers alike. The whole story can be read in Angeles of Mercy by Paul Woodadge and a percentage of the profit from each purchase goes to the church’s upkeep, a huge help for such a tiny community.
Back to the original schedule, we hit Pointe du Hoc and then on to Omaha Beach.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Pointe du Hoc was a major strategic point that the Allies had to capture. And on top of all the things that just happened to go right for the Americans here—and some wrong things too—there are a few pretty funny things to note. One, when building strongholds for your big guns, double check your measurements to make sure the guns fit in later. Second, don’t send all your highest officers off on the same night for a birthday party—this is how the allies found and destroyed the big guns that wouldn’t fit in their new strongholds.
Omaha Beach was one of the bloodiest encounters for American forces in this whole war. There are a lot of factors from all sides that attributed to this, but it wasn’t until we were standing there on the sand and exploring, that we really understood the enormity of what these boys faced. We were there at low tide and the distance to cross without running for your life from beach to cover was hard enough—it really is indescribable. It felt very surreal—it’s a beautiful place but there is a dark history in its details which are hard to shake.
Our final stop brought us to the Normandy American cemetery and memorial. This place is absolutely huge and I think having the guided cheat sheet our tour gave us really helped us navigate around and see everything we wanted to. One last thing of interest, if you walk along the edge closest to the beach, you are looking down at parts of Omaha Beach as the Germans stationed there would have—again, a surreal experience.
This tour lasted 9 hours— including travel and lunch, picking up at 8:30 and dropping us off at 5:30—but was absolutely worth the time, energy, and expense. Everyone we were traveling with would recommend it or its counterparts—they have and England-sentric version which we would have done if there was more time.
However, we went to Mont St Michele—I’ll be covering this next week!—the next day with this same touring company and the ride at least was nowhere near as informative despite the cost. Our suggestion: great option for tours like the D-day ones and all the people are very nice, but, to go to Mont St. Michele, you should shop around.
Anyway, as you can see, this was a very long day, but again, I would recommend it to anyone. If you are spending a while covering just this area, however, I would say to either start with this tour or get a really detailed guide book. You can easily spend days exploring these sites. We spent the day out there, learned a lot, and still barely scratched the surface.
If you are interested, more live pics can be found on my Instagram—just search gallatay and look for Taylor.
This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.