In the next phase of our journey we remembered and honored those who secured our freedom in World War II as we toured the beaches of Normandy.
Beaches of Normandy and D-Day Memorials
From our dock in Honfleur we rode buses to Pointe du Hoc overlooking the English channel. Here we toured the site of a German artillery and observation post during World War II. In addition to various ruins of the fortifications, a memorial at the point commemorates the US Rangers who scaled the 110-foot vertical cliffs to take out the big guns on D-Day, only to find that the biggest guns had been moved inland. They eventually found and destroyed them. This action was immortalized in the 1962 movie “The Longest Day,” filmed on location here and along the other beaches of Normandy.
Our next stop was at Omaha Beach, one of the five major D-Day beachheads by English, Canadian and US invasion forces. Lampposts along the way have photos and names of allied servicemen, honoring all who sacrificed to liberate Europe. The large Omaha Beach memorial reads “The Allied Forces landed on this shore which they called Omaha Beach (to) liberate Europe June 6th 1944.” A gleaming steel sculpture on the sand honors the courage of “sons, husbands and fathers, who endangered and often sacrificed their lives in the hope of freeing the French people.”
After lunch in a local restaurant, our third and final stop at the Normandy American Cemetery was most poignant. Here lie the remains of almost 10,000 US servicemen and women. The names of a further 1500+ are inscribed on the Walls of the Missing. After some free time to wander and reflect on the sacrifices represented here, we gathered at the central memorial for a ceremony honoring both the veterans from our tour group and all those who fought and died.
Honfleur and Étretat
The next morning our trip leaders took us on a walking tour of Honfleur, which has buildings dating back to the year 1206. Features include a picturesque harbor, the largest all wooden church in France (Saint Catherine’s), a fountain monument to the women who collected mussels for food in past centuries, and a variety of quaint and unusual shops. We purchased some smoked sea salt in a store dedicated to more varieties of salt than you could imagine.
After lunch on board we rode a bus north over the Normandy Bridge across the Seine to see the cliffs of Étretat. These chalky sheer cliffs range up to a height of 300 feet above the sea and look down on the town of Étretat. In addition to several natural arches a 230-foot high sharp pointed formation called The Needle dominates the scenery. After exploring the cliffs and the town we headed back to Honfleur for our last dinner and night onboard the M-S Bizet.
Caen Peace Memorial Museum
The next day we disembarked the M-S Bizet and bused to the Caen Peace Memorial. The museum is focused on the history of the major conflicts of the 20th century, including the cold war. However, the focus is very much on World War II and the allied invasion. It includes access to the underground bunker of General Richter, commander of German Normandy forces.
From the Peace Memorial we boarded the bus again to head for the town of Saint-Malo in Brittany, where we would stay for the next three days on our post-trip extension.