As a commemoration of the anniversary of D-Day we are honored to take look back at our visit to Omaha Beach last year.
We are fully convinced that bicycles are the best way to see most places up close while traveling. We can cover many times more ground than on foot, and those feet don’t hurt at the end of the day.
However, if we needed some reinforcement for that point of view, there might be none better than the day we spent riding along Omaha Beach in Normandy. For us there is simply no better way to have experienced this unparalleled piece of history than to glide silently along its several miles of waterfront on two wheels.
We began at one of the surviving German bunkers, where the Fifth Engineer Special Brigade Memorial stands overlooking the landing site of the Allied troops.
The feeling here is beyond profound. Gazing out over the English Channel, the power of that historic campaign was fully overwhelming. It was not difficult to picture the armada of ships dotting the horizon, but almost impossible to imagine the chaos and turmoil of the human onslaught while the liberators came onshore.
It took several minutes before anyone in our group was even able to speak.
When we went inside of the bunker and looked through the narrow slits designed to allow for outgoing gunfire, we could only think that the positioning of the bunkers made it hard to believe any allied forces ever made it off of the beach.
Just above the bunkers, the Monument to the First Infantry Division commemorates the six hundred and twenty seven members of the Big Red One’s that died freeing France in June of 1944.
From there we made our way back up to the top of the bluff where The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France is located. Here the graves of 9,385 soldiers, almost all casualties of D-Day or soon after, spread out over one hundred and seventy acres.
If we thought that we were emotional before, this took us well beyond any feelings we had ever experienced. To gather ourselves we took a few minutes to meditate at the reflecting pool in front of the colonnade.
Along this columned walkway there are maps detailing the military operations, a bronze statue entitled Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves, and the Wall of the Missing. The wall, inscribed with over fifteen hundred names, serves as a solemn reminder of those who were lost in action.
The American Cemetery at Normandy. Lest we forget. pic.twitter.com/5pgXUou3aX
— The GypsyNesters (@gypsynester) June 24, 2018
Moving into the cemetery, we spent a while walking among and gazing across the seemingly endless rows of stark white markers, taking in as many of the names as we could, before finally deciding to move on for a look at the rest of the beach.
Mounting our bikes we rode off in silence. The pathway took us directly alongside the sand, with the sea on our right and bluffs dotted with overgrown pillboxes left from Germany’s Atlantic Wall looming above us on our left.
After a mile or so we spotted the sculpture Les Braves rising from the water’s edge. Dedicated in 2004 for the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the thirty foot center pillars called Rise, Freedom! stand majestically between The Wings of Fraternity and The Wings of Hope, all formed from gleaming stainless steel.
It is an awesome work of art, designed by Anilore Banon to move in and out of the water with the tide and her words describing it are much better than anything we could possibly say:
“The Wings of Hope -So that the spirit which carried these men on 6th June 1944, continues to inspire us, reminding us that together it is always possible to change the future.
Rise Freedom! – So that the example of those who rose up against barbarity, helps us remain standing strong against all forms on inhumanity.
The Wings of Fraternity – So that the surge of brotherhood always reminds of our responsibility towards others as well as ourselves. On 6th June 1944, these men were more than soldiers, they were our brothers.” – Anilore Banon.
Slightly inland from Les Braves is another poignant piece of artwork. Yannec Tomada’s Ever Forward is a statue of a running soldier carrying a wounded comrade up from the water. The work conveys the human struggle of that fateful day with gripping realism.
Once again, the artist’s words serve to explain much better than we ever could:
“In commemoration of the determined effort by the soldiers of the 29th Division’s 116th Infantry Regimental Combat Team who landed the morning of June 6, 1944 on this section of Omaha Beach, known as Exit D-1, to open the Vierville Draw behind you to begin the liberation of Europe.”
This was another spot that held us for quite some time, unable to move away, but as we finally rode away from the sea it occurred to us that bicycles were a very good way to move about this countryside.
Later we learned that some of the Allied troops had used bicycles on D-Day.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
A big thank you to Backroads Travel for providing this adventure, as always, all opinions are our own.