Today June 6 marks the 70th anniversary of what has come to be known as D-Day. On this day in 1944, the Allied forces composed of US, Canadian UK, and French soldiers landed simultaneously on five adjacent beaches in Normandy and launched a massive attack on the German army strategically barricaded behind a series of land mines, barbed wire, and walls nicknamed ‘the Atlantic wall’. By the end of the day the British, Canadian and American divisions established strongholds on land and succeeded not only in breaching the German Nazi fortifications’ but changing the course of the war that eventually lead to the end of WWII. Nowadays the bunkers, beaches, and cemeteries with the gravesites of the fallen soldiers are open to the public between 9-5 on a daily basis except on holidays.
Should you take your kids?The short answer is yes; especially if your children are ten years old or older, and have already learned about WWII in history class. It is important to talk to children about the circumstances that lead to WWII, and about how wars, in general, have impacted modern civilization and humanity.
What is there to see and how long does it take?You can tailor the visit depending on your child’s interest and level of attention. A typical visit can last anywhere from a couple of hours to several days exploring the different sites. The most frequented site with over 1 million of visitors a year is Omaha Beach with its adjacent American Cemetery and Point Du Hoc view of the Cliffs. You don’t need to make special reservations but be aware that it can get more crowded around the US Memorial day and the D-day anniversary time.
Introducing your kid to WWIIThough, most European and American children study about WWII by 6th grade, as a parent, you should still discuss the significance of the day and events before visiting. An easy way to start is to rent and watch the acclaimed ‘Saving Private Ryan’ movie that depicts the chaos and horror that ensued the landing.
Preparing for your visitPack a day bag with the usual essentials like snacks, water, sunscreen, band-aids (in the case of falls) and ponchos (in the event of rain). Be aware that most sites are outdoors; the terrain is uneven rugged and can become muddy when it rains; so closed walking shoes with anti-slip soles are highly recommended.
The HighlightsPointe du Hoc After exploring a small exhibit at the new visitor center, your kids can roam the Nazi bunkers, gun emplacements, and deep craters on their own while wondering how it must have felt for the troops scaling the cliffs under intense fire.
The American CemeteryAfter you pass security; head on to the memorial site that depicts maps and descriptions of the different military operations as well as the Walls of the Missing where 1,557 names are inscribed. Don’t forget to stop by the beautifully landscaped reflecting pool and the inspirational ‘spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves’ statue. Next, you can wander around the 170-acre cemetery that is located on the original burial ground established by the U.S.Army on June 8, 1944. As you walk among the over 9,387 thousand crosses and Stars of David perfectly aligned, you can solemnly salute the brave young men who died in the massive military operation. Exceptionally moving is the section where siblings and family members are buried next to each other; as the two Roosevelt brothers in Plot D, Row 28 and Niland brothers Plot F.
After visiting the cemetery, you can walk a path on the cemetery grounds that leads to the rather peaceful beach below. It is interesting to point out to your kids who that after seventy years, life in Normandy has moved on, and the beaches are used by locals to swim and relax in.
Extend your visitStop by the small resort town of Arromanches for a picnic on the beach or quick bite in one of the cafes along the beach front. Complete your tour at the Arromanches 360 degree theater and watch a 20- minute presentation of the invasion or check out Mulberry harbor designed and constructed by the British to facilitate the unloading of military supplies following D-Day invasion.
- Consider hiring a local guide for your tour to engage your child with detailed stories of the invasion.
- Bring a pair of noise canceling headphones for the movie since it can become quite loud during shelling or Nazi rally clips.
- For travelers with mobility restrictions ,wheelchairs are available free of charge but expect the paths to make for a bumpy ride.