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Published: September 2nd 2012
We decided on a road trip today from our hotel in Villerville to the D-Day beaches, museums and cemeteries.
Our first stop was the village of Arromanches-les-Bains, considered 'ground-zero' of the D-Day invasion. It was the site of one of two pre-fab artifical harbors that were built in the days following the invasion. The basic facilities, including 115 football-sized, concrete blocks, were build in England and hauled over during the early days of the invasion. As part of the harbor, over 20 ships were intentionally sunk to create a sea break. Over 54,000 vehicles and 326,000 troops landed here in the weeks following D-Day. We visited our first D-day museum here.
We also visited the nearby Arromanches 360 degree Theater. It includes a well produced slide and video presentation of the Normandy area, then and now. I recommend it to anyone touring the area.
As we drove west from Arromanches, we stopped at the Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery. These bunkers, with the original guns intact, were built to guard against a seaborn attack. It was considered a critical part of Hitler's Atlantic Wall defense.
Then we arrived at the American Cemetery and Memorial. The museum
In the museum we got to see one of the dummy paratroopers. These were dropped by the thousands away from the D-Day beaches to confuse the Germans.
was full of war items and provided a stunning video highlighting several individuals that did not survive the invastion. There were letters home and interviews with surviving family members. I don't think there were any dry eyes in the theater when it was over.
After the museum we walked around the cemetery. Each cross included names, rank and hometown. We looked for family names and those from Georgia. The cemetery is just above Omaha Beach. From the cemetery you could look down and see the wide beach where so many men died.
After walking around the cemetery, we drove down the road to Vierville-sur-Mer. This beach front village was the target for the Omaha Beach landing. I walked out to the shore and thought how I would have felt to have been dropped out of a landing craft here with so much death and destruction all around. Amazing.
From here we drove west to Pointe du Hoc. This was the location of the German's most heavily fortified position along the coast. The Allies felt that this cliffside battery must be taken out for the invasion to succeed. After extensive aerial bombing, 300 Army Rangers were chosen to
Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery
This battery was one of the main German positions over the Normandy beach head. The original canons remain.
climb the cliffs and ensure the destruction of the battery. Over 200 of the Rangers were killed in the effort. After succeeding in gaining control, the surviving Rangers discovered that the massive guns were not there! They had been removed earlier by the Germans. What a shame to have lost so many for nothing. There is an impressive Ranger Monument at the site.
From Pointe du Hoc, we drove farther west to where many of our paratroopers landed, near the village of Saint Mere Eglise. This is the village where many of the paratroopers accidently landed in the early hours of June 6th. Most were killed as they dropped out of the sky and others when they landed. It was on the village church steeple where two of our men had their chutes caught trapping them in the air above the square. They survived and told the story of the terrible loss as their friends were killed in front of them. The village now is a tourist trap with a dummy paratrooper and chute still maintained on the church steeple.
Jackie and I had rented and watched the old classic movie, The Longest Day, just before arriving in
Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery
I adjusted the aim by lifting the canon. These are the only original guns remaining in place near the D-Day beaches. They had a range of 13 miles with great accuracy.
France. It helped us relate to each of the sites we visited and I highly recommend doing the same if you make this stop.
We ended the day with a pleasant drive back to our hotel in Villerville and satisfied that one of my top "bucket list" items could be crossed off.
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