In early August I spent a week in Normandy and several days touring the World War II historical sites.  If you missed last week’s post, I started my tour of D-Day activities with Arromanches and Ponte du Hoc.

My next stop was the Normandy American Cemetery.  Quite honestly, it is overwhelming and something I hope every American can see in their lifetime.

The cemetery sits on a beautiful stretch of coastline overlooking Omaha Beach.  It is exceedingly well-cared for by gardeners, landscapers, security personnel and historians.  The level of respect for the site and the soldiers, clergy and medical professionals honored at the memorial is palpable.

From the American cemetery, looking down the bluff onto a stretch of Omaha Beach

I am not sure I can describe the American cemetery in fitting terms.  I was struck by the beauty of the open sea, the sandy beach just below where so much turmoil occurred and the bluffs, the villages and the farms which all became battlegrounds.  With my American freedoms and deep love of France, to be surrounded by these elements in peace and quiet and vivid sunshine was surreal.  And poignant.  And then, to turn slightly to take in a view of almost 10,000 pristine white marble markers – Christian crosses and Stars of David for the men and women who sacrificed their lives so ours may be better.  The experience is overwhelming…

Views like this surround you – it’s a direct accounting for the toll of war

From the American Cemetery, I traveled on the winding roads along Omaha beach.  Sort of tucked in the landscape and hills (a little tricky to find) are several significant battlegrounds and sites in which to view Omaha landings.  The sites sit a bit above the beach, but well worn paths provide access point to the water should you want a different perspective.

The monument I visited was dedicated to US First Infantry Division, Big Red One.  At this site, the US assault troops led the attack on the V Corps on June 6, 1944 – a land assault supported by naval gunfire.  It took weeks to take control of the bluffs and the surrounding area.  The monument commemorates the battle and bravery: 627 lives were lost, 5 Metals of Honor for conspicuous heroism awarded.  The Big Red One motto describes the bravery and dedication of the soldiers perfectly, “No Mission Too Difficult, No Sacrifice Too Great, Duty First”.

Remembering the Big Red One infantry

My last stop wrapping up my WWII Normandy tour was the small town of Sainte-Mère-Eglise.  It is located along the Utah Beach stretch and is the western most location I visited.  It’s a lively village – seemingly still celebrating their liberation.  The town was saved by American paratroopers who descended on the German occupied village during the D-Day invasions.  The fighting lasted several days with Allies and Germans getting the upper-hand at different points, but ultimately the town was liberated from German occupation.  The story of this invasion is depicted in the movie The Longest Day.

Look closely at the clocktower and you will see the reenactment of John Steele, American paratrooper, who was caught on the tower and played dead while fighting occurred all around him.