In November of last year, I had the opportunity to explore the charming Normandy area in France. To make the most out of my visit, we hired the services of a local tour company called Albion Voyages, located in Bayeux, France (https://www.albion-voyages.com/). Our itinerary included visits to Pointe Du Hoc, Omaha Beach, The Normandy American Cemetery, the Overlord Museum, Mulberry Harbour at Gold Beach, and Eastern Omaha Beach.
Our tour guide, Morgane Bowen, was an absolute delight to have. Her customized tour was a delightful experience that exceeded our expectations. She was originally from the region and had an extensive knowledge of its rich history, having completed her master’s in the subject. Her passion for the area was infectious and reflected in her presentation and overall demeanor. I highly recommend both the tour service and Morgane as a tour guide to anyone looking to explore the beauty and history of Normandy. Morgane’s input added significant value to our tour, helping us comprehend the true meaning and sacrifices behind the signs. We explored many areas not on our original itinerary and had heartfelt conversations and discussions that broadened our viewpoints. Without Morgane, we would have missed out on a genuinely enriching experience. I highly recommend both the tour service and Morgane as a tour guide to anyone looking to explore the beauty and history of Normandy.
For instance, Did you know that Omaha Beach is a public beach where locals come together to swim and enjoy the sun during summer? During our conversation, she asked us how we felt about this fact, whether we were comfortable with it, or if we thought it should be a more somber and private space as a memorial. Each of us had a unique perspective, and we took the time to listen to one another and understand where we were coming from. It was a valuable conversation that reminded us of the importance of empathy and understanding, especially when honoring the past.
As we stood on Omaha Beach, our guide drew our attention to the German bunker that still stood as a testament to the historic conflict that had taken place there. She then recounted the pivotal moment when the first German soldier, caught off guard while lighting a cigarette, looked up to see an overwhelming fleet of 6000 boats approaching the shore. We wondered what must have gone through his mind at that moment.
This trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, as I have been working at Veterans Care Coordination for 12 years and have heard incredible stories from veterans who were part of the invasion. While standing on Omaha Beach and gazing out at the ocean, it brought back a flood of memories. Memories of the stories I heard firsthand from the veterans who were there.
I was struck by a sense of deep empathy and understanding of what the troops might have experienced during their service. It was humbling to learn that the average age of these brave soldiers was only 19. This realization made me proud to be an American, and I’m deeply grateful for all those who sacrificed for our freedom and the world.
I spoke with Morgane, who truly admired how Americans honor and thank our veterans for their service. It made me appreciate this aspect of American culture even more. I found it encouraging to see that the people in this particular region of France have not forgotten the sacrifices made by the Allied troops and have kept the history alive for future generations. This is truly heartening to witness.
The American cemetery left a profound impact on me. As I visited many headstones, I placed pennies on them while saying their names out loud. It made me sad to think that most of these soldiers never had a family member visit them since they were buried so far away from home. However, it was heartwarming to learn that all the headstones face West towards America. Currently, 60% of the soldiers have been brought back to their home country, while the remaining 40% are still buried on foreign soil.
Every five years, the local community commemorates D-Day, which marks the Normandy landings during World War II. This year, we will be celebrating the 80th anniversary of this historic event. Unfortunately, with each passing year, the number of surviving veterans dwindles, and at the 75th anniversary, only 40 were present. It is important to remember the sacrifices made by these brave heroes who fought for our freedom and way of life. Let us honor their memory and never forget their courageous actions.
When we reached out to Margane for a comment, she replied, “Normandy is a land where we share something big. It is your history as much as it is mine, and I’ve been honored to guide Diane and her friends through history. If you want to understand what happened here, you need to stand on the beach to pay your respect to those guys in the American cemetery and to take the same roads they took 80 years ago… following their footsteps. Today, we can hear the wind, the sea, the birds, but 80 years ago, it was chaos and confusion. They fought for freedom; we shall never forget… This is my job.”
If you have a family member who served in WWII, visiting Normandy is a must-do experience. Although my father did not serve in Normandy, he did serve during the war, and I also have a brother who served in Vietnam. Visiting Normandy brought me closer to understanding what it means to serve our country. I highly recommend this experience to anyone, regardless of their family history.
By Diane Gambill, Account Manager, VCC