Memorials and museums keep experiences of D-Day alive.
The 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, will be observed in June 2014. Viewed by many historians as the most important military action and the largest amphibious invasion of World War II, many D-Day landmarks remain, including beaches that bear the names used for the attack.
If a trip to Britain or France is in your 2014 travel plans, consider visiting one or more of these sites in remembrance of the more than 9,000 Allied soldiers killed or wounded.
Nothing less than victory
On June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end on June 6, the Allies gained a foothold in Normandy.
Visitors to London can travel south toward Portsmouth to see the D-Day and the Overlord Embroidery Museum. This museum was established in 1984 to tell the story of Operation Overlord from its origins in the dark days of 1940 to victory in Normandy in 1944. The museum’s centerpiece is the Overlord Embroidery. Inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, it is a moving tribute to the efforts and sacrifices of the Allies in defeating Nazi Germany.
Take a ferry across the English Channel to the historic D-Day beaches, including Sword, Juno, and Bold. A Germany artillery battery between Omaha and Gold beaches remains intact and provides a unique visual perspective of the battle.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which overlooks Omaha Beach, contains the graves of 9,387 American soldiers, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations.
Along Normandy’s coast, the 12th-century castle at La Roche-Guyon was headquarters for Germany’s Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. At nearby Caen, the Memorial Centre for History and Peace includes exhibits concerning D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.
In nearby Ranville, see the original Pegasus Bridge, held by the British 6th Airborne Division early in the invasion, at the Pegasus Memorial.
While in Caen, see Mont St.-Michel, which lies at the mouth of the Couesnon River. The medieval Benedictine Abbey and steeple church seemingly juts out of the water of the English Channel. Connected to the mainland via a thin, natural land bridge, Victor Hugo described the tides here as swift “as a galloping horse.”
It’s an easy train ride from Caen to Paris, the “City of Lights.” Paris was occupied by the Germans for 4 1/2 years and freed during seven days of fighting in August 1944.
View the Champs Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame. Ascend to the second level of the Eiffel Tower to see Paris in all its glory.
One of the city’s luxury hotels, Le Meurice, was briefly a residence of the German military governor. Contemporary guests of this Dorchester Collection property can enjoy fine cuisine and pampering spa treatments.
World history comes alive in so many places in Europe. Visiting these regions, sites, and museums of World War II can give fresh perspectives to where we’ve been, as well as where we may go.
Tom Crosby is a contributor based in Charlotte, N.C. Deborah Reinhardt, managing editor of AAA Midwest and Southern Traveler magazines also contributed to this story.
Jan/Feb 2014 Issue
If you can’t travel to Europe to observe D-Day anniversary or to learn more about this chapter of World War II, consider a trip to Bedford, Va., home to the National D-Day Memorial.
The 88-acre memorial was dedicated by President George W. Bush on June 6, 2001, in this town that experienced the most per capita D-Day losses than any other in the country. In 1944, Bedford’s population was about 3,200; 23 Bedford soldiers died during the entire Normandy campaign. The memorial was the vision of D-Day veteran J. Robert Slaughter.
A 44-foot-tall arch and reflecting pool are the centerpiece of the memorial, which welcomes about 75,000 visitors each year. Walk the grounds and learn more about the D-Day invasion and the lives of those sacrificed for the mission.
This year will mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and the national memorial will host a weekend of events. On Friday, June 6, D-Day units will participate in the laying of wreaths in memory of the fallen. Oral history stations, living history exhibits, a reunion tent, USO show, and food vendors also are part of the day’s events. The day closes with an outdoor movie night that will feature Casablanca.
The community of Bedford hosts a 1940s-era parade the morning of Saturday, June 7. At 11 a.m., a bell will toll marking the 19 community residents killed on June 6, 1944. That evening, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra will perform.
On Sunday, June 8, the observance closes with an ecumenical World War II field chapel service that will begin at 11 a.m. For more information about the national memorial and its anniversary weekend, visit www.dday.org. Visitor information for Bedford is available at www.visitbedford.com. Let AAA Travel assist with your travel arrangements to Virginia. Visit a full-service office nearest you.
– Deborah Reinhardt
The “Overlord” arch is the centerpiece of the National D-Day Memorial in Virginia. National D-Day Memorial photo
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