Published: June 11th 2008June 11th 2008
We left Bagnoles by 08:00, surprisingly everyone was ready. We stopped for breakfast around 9, just stopped in a village on the road. Grabbed some croisants, then went to a bar to get some coffee. We tried to take the backroads up to the coast, but we eventually ended up on the super highway. After a few detours through the outskirts of Caen and near St. Mere Eglise (didn't make it all the way there), we found our way to Ponte du Hoc by 11:30.
Ponte du Hoc was a strategic location for the main artillery protecting both utah and omaha beaches. It juts out into the ocean, halfway between both beaches (each are a few km away). It's a vertical cliff down to the ocean, which made it easy to defend and an ideal position for the Germans. They considered it to be impossible to be overtaken. On the morning of the invasion, a select group of Rangers scaled the cliffs from boats below and captured the position. However, the Germans had moved their guns earlier, but it was still a strategic position to hold during the landings.
The site is pretty much just like it was after
the invasion. Large craters from the Allied bombings were still there: about 60 feet in diameter and 15 feet deep. A few intact bunkers remained, with the destroyed remnants of many others. There is a nice view of the coast. It was foggy all day, no rain though. Normal weather I think though, the D Day landings were delayed (1, 2 days?) because of fog/weather.
Next we drove to the American cemetary/Omaha beach. Walking through the gardens and into the cemetary, you are overcome with emotions. Thousands of white crosses in perfect formation. So simple, yet so powerful. A memorial stands on one end of the cemetary with a statue surrounded by a walled semi circle structure. The various battle plans of the invasion and the march through Europe are displayed on the walls. In the middle of the cementary, a small chapel stands among the graves.
We walked down to Omaha beach. Quite a different scene than June 6, 1944. The only sounds you hear are the waves crashing and the birds singing and the sea is no longer red. It's hard to imagine that day, staring up to the top of the hill. But you gain
a perspective of the odds they faced and the carnage that ensued.
The beach and cemetary is a surreal experience - it begins to put a 'price' on the sacrifices during the war. To walk among the graves and along the beach where so many died, it's not something you can experience from watching the movies or reading the books. I've always been interested in the history of WWII, so it was a great experience for me. But I also would encourage anyone to make an attempt to visit this place. It's a reality check; you are now in the middle of it, transplanted in time. You look down on the sand and wonder how many were killed at that one spot. Or you read the name on a cross and wonder what his story was, how many people he saved then, and now.
But most importantly, you become sincerely thankful to be able to travel here and honor them.
Next was Arromanches and Port Winston. Had lunch by the harbor. Pretty touristy town, lot of British flags flying, however there weren't any American flags. The remanants of the artificial harbor still remained. 15 ships, hundreds of
concrete structures and 4 large piers were used to create a port city.
Then we went to Caen just because we didn't have anything else planned. We ended up at the WWII memorial museum and just went in to check it out. Didn't go through since it was late. But we were able to see the Nobel Peace price gallery and also the American gardens, so it was a worthwhile stop.
Finished the weekend with a couple beers at an Irish pub in rouen, watching football (soccer for all you in the US).
There are more photos below