67 years ago today, over 160,000 American, British and Canadian troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, France in what is still the largest water invasion in world history. As we remember the 10,000 allied soldiers who gave their lives, here is a look at some of the memorials and landmarks that commemorate those who fought and died there.
The Normandy American Military Cemetery
The cemetery, located in Colleville-sur-Mer, contains 9,387 American military dead, most of whom were killed during the invasion of Normandy and the ensuing military operations in World War II. Rows upon rows of identical white crosses and Stars of David cover over 170 acres (70 ha), and overlook Omaha Beach, one of the landing beaches in the invasion, and the English Channel, where 5,000 men lost their lives. The names of 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in the conflict but could not be located or identified are inscribed on the walls of a semicircular monument looking out onto the rest of the cemetery.
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Across from the entrance, a time capsule is buried in the grass. It contains news reports of the June 6, 1944 Normandy landings. The capsule is covered by a pink granite slab upon which is engraved: To be opened June 6, 2044.
After the war, France granted the United States perpetual concession of the soil, free of any charge or tax. The American government takes care of the cemetery and conducts tours that run continuously throughout the year. The cemetery also has archives of the graves and a visitor's center.
The D-Day Landing Beaches
The five beaches, Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah, run up the coast of Normandy in east to west order and cover over 50 miles (80km) of shore. Visitors can still see remains of German gun emplacements and bunkers along pointe du Hoc at Omaha Beach. In addition, dozens of war memorials and monuments mark where the allied forces landed on the beaches. Mulberry Harbor, a temporary harbor built by the British, has remained as a testament to the lasting effects of D-day.
The church at Ste-Mère-Église has a model parachute permanently fastened to the roof to commemorate the US paratrooper who became entangled in the steeple and dangled there during the heavy fighting on June 6, 1944.
Almost every inland town has a war memorial or museum to visit, as almost every inch of land was fought over during the invasion. These memorials are essential stops along the way to understand and reflect on the human cost of war.
A number of tour groups cover the area in 2-3 days, giving you adequate time to cover the beaches and some of the museums. If you prefer to go it alone, you can spend a few days biking the coast or rent a car and drive along the scenic route.
Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument
For the invasion, 300 U.S. Army Rangers were handpicked to attempt a castle-style assault of the German-occupied cliffs at Utah Beach, using grappling hooks and ladders borrowed from London fire departments. Only 90 rangers survived the vertical assault. Visitors can see the German bunkers and bomb craters remain just as they were found. Visitors are instructed to keep a solemn attitude as the bombed bunkers are considered grave sites.
A large monument at the end of the bluff called the Ranger Dagger, is planted firmly in the ground. The monument consists of a simple granite column atop a German bunker with tablets at its base inscribed in French and English. A museum dedicated to the Rangers is in nearby Grandcamp-Maisy.
The D-Day Landing Museum
The first museum to be built in commemoration of June 6th 1944 and the Normandy Campaign, the D-day Museum overlooks the very spot where one of the Mulberry Harbors was constructed. The harbors were constructed to unload cargo from ships during the invasion. They were intended to be only temporary, but visitors can still see the harbor today, standing a few hundred meters from shore. The museum features models of the harbor, footage of its construction and descriptions of its use during the invasion.
A hike to the cliffs behind the museum takes you to the Arromanches 360º Theater. Here visitors can view the film 'The Price of Freedom'. This film mixes news-reel images and archive material from war correspondents with modern day pictures. There is no spoken commentary, only the sounds and noises of D-Day.
An air tour is the most practical way to see the whole of the Normandy's sights in one day and offers spectacular views of France and the Atlantic. Expert guides will provide a history of events, accounts from soldiers, and commentary on the unique and beautiful views of these historic sights.
Most tours have an American, British or Canadian focus that can provide visitors with detailed information about their country's exact role in each of the landings. The pilot can take you on flight routes of allied aircrafts as they prepared to defend their brothers on land.
Guests will have a chance to fly over major sites such as the American Military Cemetery, Pointe du Hoc and the Mulberry Harbor at Arromanches. For an additional fee, pilots can fly over some of France's other historic landmarks along the coast.