Back

Omaha Beach – An American Tragedy

Omaha Beach, France, France - Liberation Tour 2015 - Monday, May 11th, 2015

After visiting the U.S. Ranger monument at Pointe du Hoc, Liberation Tour 2015 headed to Omaha Beach the scene of the largest Allied landing on D-Day and the fiercest fighting. While estimates vary, it seems certain that at least 2,000 young Americans died on the five mile stretch of beach that will forever remain the ultimate icon of the D-Day landings. Most readers will have seen the incredible Omaha Beach landing scene from Saving Private Ryan, but in case you haven’t, here it is. Watch the eight minute clip and you’ll get a much better understanding of what follows.

Here is a view of Omaha Beach today.

Photo of Omaha Beach today
Omaha Beach today

Here is a map of the landings.

Omaha Beach Landings
Omaha Beach Landings

Visiting Omaha Beach

As we exited the bus and walked toward the beach I had a familiar, but unpleasant feeling when I looked down at the beach.

Looking down at Omaha Beach
Looking down at Omaha Beach

I had seen this type of beach before, although on a much larger scale – at Gallipoli, the disastrous WWI campaign in Turkey that left over 100,000 dead.

Gallipolli
Gallipoli

Landing on a beach that is backed by high bluffs and cliffs with only a few ways up is a formula for disaster. And so it was here as well as in Turkey. Standing on Omaha Beach today I looked up and down its long expanse and couldn’t help but make the same observations that I made at Juno Beach and at Pointe du Hoc – this is beautiful. The sky is right out of a Rene Magritte painting and I could easily picture Claude Monet setting up his easel here on the beach.

Omaha Beach Today
Omaha Beach

Those are the images I will keep from Omaha Beach, because my mind cannot fathom what happened here on June 6th, 1944. The Omaha Beach monument, Les Braves is a tasteful and appropriate memorial.

Omaha Beach Monument
Les Braves at Omaha Beach

This was also an opportune place for another group photo. That’s tour leaders John Cannon and Phil Craig on the far left.

Photo of Liberation Tour 2015 at Omaha Beach
Liberation Tour 2015 at Omaha Beach

After leaving the beach we had lunch in Vierville-sur-Mer where there is a memorial to the National Guard members who fought here on D-Day which includes this excellent sculpture of one guardsman helping a stricken comrade.

 Photo of the National Guard Monument, Omaha Beach

National Guard Monument, Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach Cemetery

The Normandy American Cemetery was the next logical stop for the tour. Unlike Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery which is well inland from Juno Beach where many of the interred died on D-Day, the American cemetery literally overlooks Omaha Beach. It contains 9,387 burials and commemorates another 1,557 MIAs. The cemetery provided an interesting contrast to the Commonwealth and German cemeteries we had visited previously. All burials, except for those of the Jewish faith are marked by crosses and are widely spaced. That makes for perhaps an even more interesting symmetrical pattern than the stone tablets used in the Commonwealth cemeteries.

Photo of the American Cemetery Omaha Beach
American Cemetery Omaha Beach
Endless Graves at Omaha Beach Cemetery
Endless Graves

The one thing I really liked about the inscriptions on the graves was that they contained the dead soldier’s first name and not just initials, as in the Commonwealth graves. It also identifies what state the person was from. What I didn’t like was the fact that the inscriptions were not highlighted and that made them hard to read and they don’t indicate the age of the deceased. Here is Thomas E. Reid from Virginia.

Thomas E. Reid in Omaha Beach Cemetery
Thomas E. Reid

The American war dead cemeteries are administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission and like the CWGC the website provides a search function to look up names of the dead and get more information. In the case of Thomas Reid I learn that he was in the 147th Engineer Combat Battalion which in turn allows me to discover the exact landing vessel Thomas was on and where he landed on Omaha Beach on the last day of his short life. He was one of 49 men in his battalion who landed at Dog Red (see map above) along with a D-7 tractor. Here is an extensive description of the disastrous landings at Omaha Beach in which Private Reid would have taken part.

The cemetery has a very nice reflecting pool.

Reflecting Pool at Omaha Beach Cemetery
Reflecting Pool

And this statue entitled “American Youth Rising from the Waves”, which is quite a mouthful and just a bit too fey to portray the horror that occurred here on D-Day.

American Youth Rising from the Waves at Omaha Beach Cemetery
American Youth Rising from the Waves

At the far end of the cemetery these two statutes representing United States (Lady Columbia) and France (Marianne) seemed more appropriate to me.

Lady Columbia at Omaha Beach Cemetery
Lady Columbia
Marianne at Omaha Beach Cemetery
Marianne

The last place we visited on Omaha Beach was one that I would skip on another visit. As John explained it, in order to get into the Visitor Center we would have to go through American style security conducted by Frenchmen and he was dead on. Why you would need to go through security to get into a visitor center is beyond me and frankly put a real damper on the whole experience. If these thousands of boys and men died to advance the cause of liberty and freedom then something’s not right about having to virtually strip to get into the shrine to liberty. Once inside there was absolutely nothing of particular value that would be worth attacking, stealing or vandalizing. If terrorists were going to do anything at Omaha Beach they would have plenty of targets without worrying about getting into the visitor center.

I don’t want this post to end on a down note, but we are talking about D-Day which, as glorious as it was to the non-participants, was hell on earth for those who were there.


Comments:



Did you enjoy this article? Please share it!:


More explorations: