Early start for a quick, yet full tour to visit the main three sites for Americans in about three and a half hours.
The best introduction for D-day is to visit Pointe du Hoc. This German battery attacked by the U.S Rangers will put you right in the atmosphere: the beach, the cliff, the bunkers, the bomb craters…
Next, the best-known Bloody Omaha deserves two stops. You will actually step on the beach, and what a beach! Four miles long, no picture or movie has yet made it a justice. You have to be there to realize what it was and what it took.
The second stop for Omaha is the heart-breaking U.S cemetery, for also another impressive perspective of the beach from the high ground. Your guide will take you around and show you some of the most famous graves, even though each of the 9 387 Americans buried here would deserve our respect.
One of the largest German coastal batteries with six guns. Being of 6-inch caliber and of a range of about 10 miles, these cannons would be a threat to both Omaha and Utah beaches (i.e the whole American sector). Because neither the air- nor the naval bombardment would be enough to be sure all guns were destroyed before the invasion started, the task was given to Lt. Col. Rudder and the 225 U.S Rangers of the 2nd battalion to finish the job on D-day.
Mission seemed impossible : after landing on the small rocky beach, they had to scale the cliff, a sheer wall of about 100 feet (with their rope ladders and grappling hooks) and find and destroy the guns. Mission was accomplished though, by 1st Sgt. Lomell and S/Sgt Kuhn in about two hours, but the surviving Rangers still had to hold their ground in face of the German counter-attacks until relieved on June 8… Total casualties resulted very high.
Thanks to the first help of a group of locals to make this incredible site a place of memory, it has been well preserved since, with its monuments and a number of bunkers and also bomb craters all over this 30-acre battlefield. One can still enter some of these bunkers (both above ground and underground) especially the Observation and Command Post, newly-reopened after 10 years.
The most famous and most difficult of the five D-day beaches. It took the highest casualties, due in particular to its topography : it was the only beach with high ground just beyond.
The impossible task here was to get off the beach as quickly as possible in order to reach the top of the bluff, when the only four exit roads were still blocked off by the German defenders. The air-bombing and naval bombardment that were supposed to disorganize them, almost completely missed.
Standing there and seeing this beach (4 miles long) all at once, when realizing about the big tides and discovering the German fortifications and gun emplacements, will leave you amazed at the extraordinary courage and sacrifice needed. You will understand why the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions suffered more than 3 800 casualties (dead, wounded or missing) to make this battle a victory.
They had to jump out of their Landing Craft and wade their way out of the cold water, past the terrible beach obstacles, as graphically depicted in “Saving Private Ryan”.
The Normandy American Cemetery is the final resting place for 9.387 Americans. It covers 172 acres and is an actual battleground as it overlooks the “Easy Red” sector of Omaha Beach. Soldiers of all ranks (private to general) honored here were buried after the war was over (close to where they died during the summer of 1944) on their families’ request.
Soldiers all equal in death and their graves in no particular order, they are all marked with the same beautiful Italian white marble headstones. Only around 300 soldiers remained buried here in unidentified graves, but over 1.500 M.I.A’s are listed on the Wall of Missing.
Even though the story behind each grave is a sad one and the sacrifice of all deserves to be recognized, some of them are better known, such as the three Medal-of-Honor recipients or the three Generals (including General Th. Roosevelt Jr). Also the two Niland brothers, base of Saving Private “Ryan”, or the Ollie Reed father & son. And more recent 1Lt. Billie D. Harris, whose wife Peggy first visited the grave in April 2006!