D-Day 75th Anniversary sponsored by University of Maryland University College Europe

Photo by  Marcin Jucha
Photo by Marcin Jucha

Know before you go: Utah and Omaha Beach

by Jessica Zen
Stripes Europe

When the Allied forces launched an attack to liberate Europe from German military occupation, the impact it would have on history was nothing but a dream. June 6, 1944 will forever be remembered as D-Day, when a 60-mile stretch of beaches in Normandy were used for an invasion that would change the world. Utah and Omaha were two of the five beaches on the westernmost front where American forces landed. Though the Allied forces were triumphant, they were met with fierce German resistance and suffered serious losses. Today, visiting the beaches is a great way to honor the memory and pay homage to the thousands of soldiers who gave up their lives for our freedom; especially since this year marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Furthest to the west is Utah Beach, where over 23,000 men landed and moved approximately four miles inland after intense fighting on D-Day. When visiting this beach, parking is easy, as you can head straight to Musée du Débarquement (Utah Beach Landing Museum) for free parking in a large lot. After walking the beach, stop by the museum, which chronicles how D-Day was planned and executed. Be sure to check out the B-26 Marauder bomber, an American WWII twin-engine bomber aircraft.

Across from the museum is a shop, bar and restaurant called Le Roosevelt Cafe. The restaurant is covered in museum-like decorations, including mannequins in traditional uniforms and historical artifacts. It is located in a fishing house that was used during WWII, making it an incredibly authentic piece of history in which you can now dine.  

If you want to tour more of the town of Utah Beach, which is Saint-Marie-du-Mont, visit the church, where the walls are still peppered with bullet holes, a solemn reminder of the battles fought. The church tower has since been restored, but the people will never forget the damage.

Just 45 minutes away (via N13) is Omaha Beach, which was the most heavily defended area on D-Day. Fighting here was intense and casualties were higher — around 1,000 soldiers. Despite the odds they faced, at the end of the day, Americans were able to gain a small foothold on the beach. A must see at Omaha Beach is the Normandy American Cemetery, Memorial and Visitor Center. This beautiful area pays homage to the soldiers who lost their lives on D-Day. The names of men missing in action are inscribed on the Walls of the Missing. The museum also relays the story of the D-Day landings and the battle of Normandy.

Pointe du Hoc, a cliff on the English Channel, is another great stopping place and is where the German fortifications were strong during the war. To this day, the ground is still littered with German concrete defenses. Here you’ll find a memorial dedicated to the battle and the Army Rangers who scaled the cliffs to seize German artillery pieces.

The Omaha Memorial Museum houses a collection of uniforms, weapons, personal objects and vehicles in order to keep the memory alive of the soldiers who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. This museum is kid-friendly and offers a free tour. Parking in this area is easy and can be found at the museum, Pointe du Hoc, the cemetery, as well as free parking lots.

Conveniently located between the cemetery and Pointe du Hoc is L’Omaha, the perfect place to stop for lunch. They feature a covered terrace with a sea view and a garden. Served daily is local wine and beer, as well as full lunches ranging from burgers and fries to mussels in cream sauce. They also have a small shop and free parking. Should you wish to enjoy the beach at a closer proximity, pack a picnic lunch!

Between the natural beauty of the beaches and the historical significance, it’s no wonder people flock to Normandy. With the 75th anniversary upon us, there is no better time to plan a trip to this area. Take some time while you are there to learn about the battles and reflect on the significance of this area and the invasion of the beaches. Though it was many years ago, we will never forget what D-Day meant for the world.

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