This summer brought the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the invasion in Normandy. We wanted to visit Omaha Beach and the American cemetery before we moved back to the States, but we also knew that we didn’t want to be there on the 70th anniversary. Yikes! I can just imagine the traffic jams on those little winding French roads.
I have to tell you that I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts on this post for days. What do you say about a battlefield that has been portrayed in so many films and documentaries? What will honor the memory of the tens of thousands, soldiers and civilians, who died there? All I can do is tell you about our experience, and I know it will come up short.
We spent a couple of nights at Pierre & Vacanes Residence Omaha Beach, apartments right along the course at the Omaha Beach Golf Club. It was a perfect location — so convenient for a round of golf. For our non-golfing Dutch neighbors in the the next apartment, the swimming pool made it perfect for their first vacation with their 1-year old daughter.
The first evening, we walked down to the clubhouse and had a few drinks. As we sat on the patio, with a all of the Allied flags flying and a view of the water in the distance, it felt kind of strange to be kicking back and relaxing at the site of such a hard-fought, historical battle. Even here, a few miles from the official cemeteries and memorials, Ed and I both felt a sense of the lives lost here. It was something you feel in your heart. If you know me, I’m a big advocate for free markets and commerce, but this seemed a little sacrilegious — something akin to building a Six Flags at Gettysburg (there isn’t one). Don’t get me wrong. The golf club is lovely. It fits in with the countryside, and is subdued with golf holes being named after famous generals, complete with flags, monuments, and Nazi machine gun bunkers. Ed said he could spot the locals. They were the ones just playing golf and not taking lots of pictures along the way. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be there; it just felt strange.
The American Cemetery and Memorial at Omaha Beach is just one of many military cemeteries in Normandy. There are 14 British and Canadian cemeteries, and the Langannerie-Urville Polish War Cemetery contains the graves of 650 Polish soldiers killed in the Battle of Normandy.
The American Cemetery contains the remains of 9,387 military members, air crews who were shot down over France as well as those who died during the Normandy invasion and subsequent battles. Not all of our war dead are buried here. After the war, the families were able to choose to have their loved ones remain in an overseas cemetery or repatriated for permanent burial in the United States. Buried here are two sons of US President Teddy Roosevelt and the Niland brothers (the film, Saving Private Ryan, was loosely based on their story.)
The Memorial, with carved granite, bronze statues, and reflecting pools, faces the United States. The land, for the memorial and cemetery, like others from World War I and World War II, was granted to the US by France without any charge or tax. After recent conversations with the locals while we were in France, I think these cemeteries may be the only things in France that aren’t taxed, and I guess that says something. American flags fly over them.
For more travel ideas, check out Sunday Traveler on Chasing the Donkey!