It worked out in our vacation scheduling that Chris, our girls, and I were able to tour the cemeteries, battlefields, fortifications, and beaches of Normandy on the 4th of July in 2017.
If you would be interested in learning more about the tour we scheduled, you can find more information here: Normandy Sightseeing Tour
Chris and I would both highly recommend scheduling this informative tour.
We were looking forward to this day-long tour a lot as we love visiting war memorials, museums, and cemeteries. We both have a fascination with World War II history.
Note: The tour was somewhat spendy for our family of five, but it was important to us and we planned for the investment. It was totally worth it.
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Visiting the beaches of Normandy and learning more about the D-Day invasion seemed a most fitting way to celebrate the Independence Day of the United States of America.
Before setting out for the day, our family enjoyed the beautiful French breakfast from our Airbnb hosts in Vaux-sur-Aure—croissants, chocolate-filled croissants, fruit, fresh apple cider from the orchard down the street, yogurt, homemade jam, and baguettes. Lovely.
We had an early start time and had informed our hosts, Patrick and Patricia, before arriving that we would need to have an early breakfast. They were most accommodating.
As we planned ahead, we packed snacks, water, jackets, and hats. Since we would be traveling in a van all day long, it was handy to be able to leave our extras in my travel tote in the van as we got out to tour the different sites.
We drove a short distance from Vaux-sur-Aure where we were staying at the Airbnb to Bayeux. The drive was lovely with beautiful blossoming hydrangeas along the road and surrounding homes.
We met up with our tour guide, Adrien, and the rest of our tour group: James, a visitor originally from Australia but living in London; and Francoise and Thibault, a grandmother and her grandson who only spoke French.
Our tour today would be bilingual. It was nice though because as Adrien spoke to us in English, we then had a chance to look around as he then gave his spiel in French. We set off in our nine-passenger van for an amazing day of history.
Our first stop was at the German Cemetery. This cemetery was temporarily used for American soldiers until a permanent place was given to them.
The German soldiers were buried two to a grave. It was the smallest cemetery size wise but had the most soldiers laid to rest there.
There were two branches of their army from Germany, however, these soldiers were separated neither by rank nor politics. In the center of the cemetery a huge mound rose up.
Apparently, the identification of about 300 soldiers was mixed up. In order to still give them a proper burial, they were buried in a mass grave and given identification as their identity was determined.
Sainte-Mere-Eglise was our next stop in Normandy. Adrien gave us 45 minutes to visit the church and three small museums close to the church—C-47, Planeur Waco, and Operation Neptune. The museums were full of military memorabilia from airplanes to parachutes, clothing, supplies, uniforms, matches, guns, and medals. It was impressive.
We walked into the C-47 replica museum and immediately felt as though we were riding in a C-47 with the loud noises, the shake of the plane, cold temperatures, and surrounded by “paratroopers” (mannequins) solemnly waiting to jump.
Our stops throughout the day took us to Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, and Pointe du Hoc.
While waiting for lunch at a little diner, “Le Roosevelt“, across the street from Utah Beach, Adrien escorted us down in to a well-camouflaged bunker under the cafe that was taken by US Soldiers from the Germans.
Pointe du Hoc is a World War II Ranger Monument just eight miles west of the American Cemetery in Normandy. Pointe du Hoc sits high on a cliff offering expansive views of Omaha Beach. On June 6, 1944, during the American assault of Omaha and Utah Beaches, U.S. Army Rangers scaled the 100-foot cliffs hand over fist to seize the German artillery pieces set to fire on the American troops that would be landing on the beaches. The rangers’ success came at a high cost of life as the German’s launched counterattacks.
We spent a little bit of time at Omaha Beach. Today it is a beautiful seaside, summer destination. So different now from the Normandy beach of World War II. Tractors sat on the beach with boat trailers attached to make launching and loading up boats easier. Paragliders floated gracefully in the sky above us.
The American Cemetery in Normandy
Our final stop for the day was the American Cemetery. When you see the crosses, row upon row upon row, you begin to sense the magnitude of war and freedom. We had about an hour to wander through the cemetery, read the plaquards, visit the chapel, and simply feel the peace of this hallowed ground.
“The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France is located in Colleville-sur-Mer, on the site of the temporary American St. Laurent Cemetery, established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944 as the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. The cemetery site, at the north end of its half mile access road, covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,385 of our military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. On the Walls of the Missing, in a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial, are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.”American Battle Monuments Commission
Our day long tour of Normandy ended at the American Cemetery. We returned to the bus where Adrien drove us back to the train station in Bayeux.
Best 4th of July ever.
Final Thoughts on Touring Normandy on the Best 4th of July Ever
If you ever have the opportunity to tour Normandy, regardless of the date, I highly recommend it. I also recommend booking an immersive tour of Allied and German war cemeteries, famous battlefields, fortifications, and beaches.
Normandy offers a wide range D-Day sites. Seeing the sites with a tour guide is totally worth it for the knowledge and guidance you will receive throughout the day.