NORMANDY, France - The United States offers a few D-Day sites - the one in Beford, Virginia and the museum in New Orleans are the most prominent - but for World War II junkies nothing beats the real beach itself.
You may have watched the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, read either Stephen Ambrose or Cornelius Ryan on the D-Day landing, but until you actually see just how big Omaha Beach is at low tide can you appreciate the massive scope of this job.
The American forces that landed here embodied sitting ducks; the Germans had the high ground and hundred of yards in front of them to shoot the Americans trying to get off the landing boats in chaotic water. Even more than 50 years of natural erosion does not change the distance the American forces had to navigate, under intense enemy fire, of these beaches.
There are countless museums and memorials along the northwestern coast of France, and a few obscure ones that are living monuments to that world-changing day, but if you want the very best make the trip to the American cemetary/memorial/museum at Omaha Beach in Colleville-Sur-Mer. It's worth it.
The grounds are immaculate, the museum features artifacts, stories and videos, and there are massive maps chronicling the invasion. The cemetery itself is just about as moving of a memorial as you could create.
The most memorable part of this visit is the actual walk from the high bluffs where the memorial sits down to the beach itself. With all due respect to the Canadian and British forces that landed at Gold, Sword and Juno Beaches, those were nothing compared to this monster beach.
The first picture is take from the top of the bluff/walk. The second picture is from about 3/4 of the way to the water. The tide was out when I made this visit.
This is a long, steep, walk down a paved walk way that traverses the slope for hundreds of yards. And then you have to walk through a marshy area through brush before you reach sand. Then you have to walk at least another 75 yards before you reach the waters of the English Channel.
Then you can turn around and see just how far you have to walk back up a monster hill. And you are walking this without being scared to death, without a bunch of water-logged gear all over your back, and without a bunch of people shooting at you.
This subject has been a passion of mine for years, and to finally see so much of it with my own eyes and appreciate the scale of the D-Day invasion and the many miles it covered was a great thrill.
If you are ever in France, do yourself a favor and make the trip to Colleville-Sur-Mer. It allows you to appreciate what these men did on June 6, 1944 just a little bit more.
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