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Thoughts on Visiting Normandy, France

Normandy, France, was never on my list of places to visit. I knew it was fundamental to our history (not just as Americans, but as citizens in this world), but with so much to see in Europe, I figured we’d get around to visiting at some point. 

When it turned out that we could squeeze in a week-long trip to “somewhere” in Europe this summer, I asked Kenny what his top choice would be since I couldn’t make up my mind on where to go.

Without hesitating, he said, “Normandy.” 

I won’t lie: His answer bummed me out big time.

I was expecting (hoping) for a “prettier” destination in France, maybe a relaxing resort in Greece, or to explore a country we haven’t been to yet like Portugal, Denmark, or Iceland. 

But Normandy was important to him, so we set out to make it happen.

Thankfully, I’m not afraid to admit that my assumptions about Normandy were 100% wrong, and now it’s my wish that every American can visit Normandy at least once in their lifetime. 

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from top left: Normandy American Cemetery; Omaha Beach; Luc-sur-Mer

It was spectacular, in a humbling, awe-inspiring, somber way.

Unfortunately, my knowledge of D-Day was scarce. When we started planning this trip, I found myself clawing my way through my mind back to my high school history classes, hoping I’d remember the bigger details, but only fuzzy details came to mind.

Thankfully, Kenny is a history buff, so it was like traveling with my own personal tour guide. He helped educate me (in simple terms) before our trip so I understood the basics of the D-Day operation, and while we were there I’d actually quiz him on things and ask specific questions, only to follow up and find out that he was right and totally knew what he was talking about.

I was so thankful to have his input and expertise for this trip.

My point is: when you visit, I highly recommend a tour guide. I saw so many people just wandering around, and I had to wonder if they were even fully grasping what they were seeing. Knowing smaller details and understanding the whole situation made a world of difference. 

Tours for you in Normandy

As a military spouse, there’s a quote I’ve heard in one form or another, but it almost went in one ear and out the other before visiting Normandy.

“Some must die so that others may live.”

~ Winston Churchill (although, even though I read it on a monument at Pointe du Hoc, I can’t find anything to back up where/when he actually said it)

When you take in all that happened in that area on and around June 6, 1944, his words just hit you in a completely different way.

Some must die so that others may live.”

So many people died for our freedom, for humanity, and to stop evil. And goodness gracious does that hit you when you’re in Normandy and standing on the actual beach where more than 4,000 men gave their lives so we could live.

The troops on the frontlines the morning of D-Day (those who actually made it there and didn’t drown before they arrived) were literally like sitting ducks waddling onto a beach where they most certainly knew they would die as the enemy perched above them with the best vantage point.

Thousands of boys fearlessly jumped out of planes (a new concept back then) to parachute into the unknown—most landing off course and having to navigate their way around in a war zone. And they scaled cliffs, only to get to the top and then have to literally fight for their lives even more in order to proceed.

If those young American, British, and Canadian men didn’t secure those beaches, evil would’ve continued to prevail, drastically changing our lives and history as we know it. 

Being there and seeing that these places were/are real and not just a line in a text book or in a movie just left me humbly speechless.

Digging my toes in to the sand they once stepped on, looking over the cliffs, driving around the countryside where it all went down, and then seeing the graves of thousands of men shook me to my core.

It was a lot to take in.

I was filled with immense gratitude and profound sadness for all they sacrificed. 

Whew.

I truly didn’t intend on writing this much about our experience visiting around Normandy, but it was just truly amazing.

Truth be told: I was worried I’d get bored. Museums have a way of making me wish I was at home taking a nap, but I was anything but bored and wanted to soak up all the information I could find.

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from top left: Richard D. Winters Leadership Monument; Normandy American Cemetery Visitor’s Center; Sainte-Mère-Église; Caen Memorial Museum

The stories at each museum, roadside monument, and specific WWII site had compelling accounts about different service members. It shared their jobs, how they contributed to the war, and in many cases, how they died. You felt connected to them in an indescribable way.

To be honest, I desperately wanted to meet someone while I was there who fought in the war on D-Day (or during that time). My heart swelled with pride and thankfulness, and I wish I could’ve personally thanked someone. On the flip side, when I saw photos and videos of troops who returned to Normandy, I was shocked and in awe at their bravery for returning to such a place.

I should note that we didn’t spend all day, every day seeing WWII sites. Kenny is doing virtual school right now based in America, so every day from 3pm-9pm he would work from his phone and computer from where we were staying. We did all of our sightseeing in the morning, and then I’d try to keep the kids out of our tiny house for the afternoon/evening.

It actually ended up being a good balance for the kids. We saw such heavy sights and dealt with big topics in the mornings, but we always promised them something fun for the afternoon like playing at the beach or going to one of the pools.

Keep an eye out for more posts on where we stayed in Normandy (we loved it!), what all we saw, and where we went. I was shocked at the amount of museums and monuments, and while we certainly didn’t go to all of them, there were several we enjoyed more than others.

But for this post, I just had to get those feelings out there with how great it was to experience Normandy.

Have you been there before? If you haven’t been to Normandy yet, do you hope to visit sometime?

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