We had the opportunity to do a day tour in Normandy. Our tour guide was so awesome. He opened one of the first McDonald's franchises in Amsterdam, sold it about 17 years ago (so, lots of money), took an interest in D-Day, moved with his wife to Normandy and opened a Bed and Breakfast, and started giving tours. He called everyone we met his "cousin," and it was really a pleasure to have him as our guide.
I had no idea what to expect when we got to Normandy. We first went to Arromanches, which is a town on Gold Beach. It is where the Allied forces set up the artificial harbor after D-Day. The big concrete structures you can see in the water are the remains of that.
We were there at high tide, but at low tide you can walk out to them and some are 5 stories high. The tide goes out 500 meters (which is what it was on D-Day), so the harbor had to be really far away, with roads bringing the supplies to land, like in this picture.
I couldn't believe how many things are still there. This gun is original. The people we met in Normandy were so gracious. They LOVE Americans, and are so thankful for the US's part in ending the war. Their memories of the war and its effects are still fresh.
I found this on the internet. This is the same structure you see on the right of the above picture, but at lower tide.
Next we drove to see the German gun bunkers (sorry, I don't remember the technical names). They are in such good condition because it was too cloudy on D-Day and the days before to get a good target from the airplanes, so the shells missed their mark and landed a mile or two inland. This contributed to the high casualties on D-Day itself.
This one was blasted our from the back because their ammunition exploded. Nobody knows how that happened, but at least that was one less gun! There were pieces of the shaft several meters away, embedded in the ground.
This beautiful look-out structure is actually quite old. It sustained some damage in the war, and then they blew up part of it during the making of "The Longest Day." It has since been restored.
I held out as long as a could before asking to borrow a jacket. It was cold! He started handing a smaller jacket to me, then handed it to Rhonda and said "This will fit you better." Then handed this beauty to me. We all got a good laugh! At least I was warm!
Some concrete structures left at Omaha Beach.
He gave us some time to reflect while we were at Omaha Beach. That is where the most casualties were sustained. So many men died right there. I was trying to look somber in this picture.
Brandon looking into a bunker.
Climbing up from Omaha Beach to the Officer's Memorial.
Entrance to an underground German bunker. You can still see the zig-zag trenches running out of the bunkers up the hill. 70 years later and so much is still there.
American Cemetery and Memorial. There are more than 9000 American soldiers buried there (not in the picture. The graves are laid out in perfect lines. For headstones, the Christians have crosses, and the Jews have the Star of David. Very beautiful.)
View of Omaha Beach from the cemetery.
Next we drove to Ponte du Hoc (Hook Point) where there had been a large group of German bunkers. They were shelled like crazy leading up to D-Day, so it was very damaged. These are huge concrete blocks that landed there. It is a designated War Grave, because there are probably German soldiers' remains underneath the concrete.
Our guide called it a German golf course. That is what it really looks like. All of the holes are bomb craters. Before vegetation grew over, it looked like craters on the moon.
Kaden, Brandon, Tyler, and Alex in a bomb crater.
Memorial for the Rangers. They scaled the cliffs to take out the guns here, only to find that the guns had been moved and replaced with tree trunks. They eventually found the guns and destroyed them, but most of the Rangers died trying to take this point.
The Ponte de Hoc. It used to be connected (ie didn't slope down like that), but it was bombed in the war, and then blown up again for the making of "The Longest Day." We can be thankful for CGI now so that movies don't destroy important places anymore. No one is allowed down there because thousands of live shells were dropped off the cliff.
Me inside the bunker that is right on the edge of the cliff. Somehow it didn't get shelled.
Visiting Normandy was a wonderful experience. There is a feeling at Omaha Beach that I have not felt before. It is a sacred place, and also a sad place. Even the wildlife has been changed. There are no sea shells washing up on the beach, there were only a couple of seagulls (whereas at Gold Beach, just a couple miles over, there were tons). There is just silence. Almost oppressive silence. I couldn't find anything about this online, but our guide showed us some pictures he had taken of red areas of sand. He says a few days year, some of the sand seeps red. They haven't been able to find a cause, but it only started after D-Day.