On June 6, 1944, the Allies landed along 60 miles of beaches to set in motion the liberation of Europe from the Nazis. There were five separate landings to Operation Overlord by American, British, and Canadian troops involving 160,000 soldiers. Code names for the 5 beaches are Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. Here’s a map from HistoryExtra.com to give you a good idea of the beaches.
I was able to travel to France on an amazing trip to visit all 5 of the beaches. For a history buff like me, this was an unforgettable experience. I would like to share with you about all 5 beaches, starting with Omaha.
The Most Difficult Beach
Historians agree that the landing on the stretch of about 5 miles that is Omaha Beach was the most difficult of a day of unimaginable difficulties. Why? This beach turned out to have the largest number of German troops. Allied bombing runs failed to take out German strong points. The beach was riddled with mines and obstacles. Also, stormy weather and navigation issues led to men drowning before they could even reach the beach.
The battle on Omaha was so severe that U.S. Lieutenant General Omar Bradley considered retreat back to England. But slowly and steadily men clawed through the sand and sprinted and ran into enemy fire, making it to the refuge of the seawall. By the end of this Day of Days, the Americans claimed a toehold of about 1.5 miles of France.
The focus of a visit to Omaha Beach today is the peaceful cemetery that is the final resting place of almost 10,000 American soldiers who gave their lives in the battle for Normandy. Overlooking the beach, the rows of graves attest to the price paid for liberation in one small corner of the world. It’s overwhelming to walk here.
The sea of white crosses and stars extends every direction. It’s hard to look around at such loss of life. When you think how many of these lads were teenagers, transported across the English Channel in a rocky vessel, landing in a country where they had never set foot, and then their lives were cut short – it’s too much to comprehend.
The Flag Ceremony and Reflecting Pool
Musée Mémorial d’Omaha Beach
I would allow about an hour to take in this museum. If your time is limited, see the outside cemetery and beach first. If time allows, end your visit at the museum.
At the far west end of Omaha Beach, in Vierville-sur-Mer, you’ll find an imposing sculpture called The Brave. The artist, Anilore Banon, said he created this to honor the courage of the men – sons, husbands, and fathers – who faced danger and often sacrificed themselves in the hope of freeing the French people. These “wings of hope” remind us all to stand strong for freedom and to speak up against all forms of inhumanity.
When You Visit
If you go to Normandy, you can walk on these beaches and try to imagine the events of June 1944. You can feel the sand between your toes, the waves lap at your feet. Around you, children will be playing, families will be out for a stroll, enjoying the sun and the sea. We are all living a life of freedom now, and it’s only right to remember those who gave their last full measure of devotion to make this possible.
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