|Normandy Places of Interest
Keep your eyes and ears open during
your visit, for the most vivid history of all
may be sitting at the next table at dinner.
We have met WWII vets on every visit to
Normandy and many have become
enduring friends over the years. Be brave
and strike up a conversation - most are
eager to talk about their experiences.
At left is 4th Infantry Division veteran
Irving Smolens and his daughter Karen on
Utah Beach in 2004. Over the years our
families have become close and have
visited back and forth several times.
Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches: These beaches are in the Canadian and British
sectors of the invasion, around Pegasus Bridge. Small British military cemeteries
are scattered along the back roads in the area and contrast with the huge American
cemeteries. They also differ in their personalized inscriptions, e.g. “Rest your head
awhile, my darling, and I’ll meet you in another place”. Some cemeteries include a
few German graves marked with simple black stones.
Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer: This cemetery pictured in
“Saving Private Ryan” is situated on a cliff overlooking the Fox segment of Omaha
Beach. Check the website for open hours. A footpath descending to the beach is
worthwhile; this bluff was the site of an intense battle, and the a command post
was reputedly situated between the reflecting pool and main memorial.
The Back Roads: Scattered along the winding country roads behind Omaha
Beach are numerous villages with histories of their own. There are also many
small museums which chronicle the human experiences of each place. Watch for
bullet marks from gunfire, still visible on the stone walls near corners and
intersections. Hedgerows 10-15 feet high can still be seen on the farm roads; these
unforeseen obstacles nearly foiled the success of the invasion. The hedgerows are
disappearing as farms are consolidated into larger more-easily-plowed fields. We
recommend picking up a Michelin map to the area.
St-Laurent-sur-Mer, Vierville, and Omaha Beach: Each entry from the sea to
the bluffs has a monument, with a small beach road connecting the sites (which
wasn’t there in 1944). There is also a marked path on top of the bluffs extending
the entire length of the beaches; KMC tourists highly recommended the trip but
say it makes for a strenuous day. Note the two museums on Omaha Beach, both
located in salvaged WWII buildings. Each one has its own character and is worth a
visit. A drive along the beach road is recommended to see where the “shingle”
used to be, a low wall and stretch of egg-sized stones that provided cover but also
trapped troops on the beach. The swampy area which posed so much difficulty to
the troops is still visible, though dry now and free of concertina wire and mines.
Look for the site of the original US cemetery along this road in an area of beach
cottages. German gun emplacements are clearly visible on the bluffs.
Pointe du Hoc: This area 7 km east of Omaha Beach is a must see on any
Normandy trip. According to veterans, the area today is much like they found it 6
June 44, with huge shell craters, intact German bunkers, and an extensive system
of trenches and gun emplacements. Unfortunately, deterioration of the cliff area
prevents visitors from seeing the vertical wall scaled by the Rangers. The La
Cambe German cemetery is not far inland from Pointe du Hoc.
Guided Tours: Many companies offer DDay tours lasting from a half to two
days. If you have the time and money, this is the best way to see it all in a short
time. The following have been recommended by friends as well-worth the Euros:
Historic WW2 Tours
For small group tours, the owner of former Battlebus Tours, Paul Woodadge, has
unanimous great reviews. He is now working on his own at DDay Historian site.