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Understanding D-Day: Travel to Normandy

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The Invasion of Normandy from the National Archives.

The best way to learn about historical events is to actually visit the sites where those events took place.

As the Director of the Museum’s Travel Programs, I can speak with some authority on this.  My years here at The National WWII Museum have taken me from London, to the beaches of Normandy, through Belgium and Luxembourg, into Germany and Austria, along the French Riviera and the “boot” of Italy, and even through the Philippine Islands.

But my very first visit to Normandy, on our 2005 Victory in Europe Tour, is the one that always stand out the most.

I had studied D-Day for 10 years, watching all of the movies and documentaries; reading the best books on the subject; listening to the stories of the WWII veterans who were actually there, but I learned more in one minute of standing on the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach than in the previous 10 years combined.

Perspective.  This was a word that kept floating in my head during the tour and after when people asked me what I learned on the trip.  No matter how much you have analyzed and studied photos and maps, only being on the ground can bring these sites to life.  The only word I could come up with was perspective.

I saw D-Day through the perspective of the men storming ashore and the near-impossible task that lay ahead of them.  Most importantly though was the perspective from the German side of the beaches.  Positioned atop the bluff, just outside of the Normandy American Cemetery grounds, one can imagine what it would have been like for the soldier manning the defensive positions awaiting the armada to unload its human cargo.

Easy.  That was another word I kept coming back to.  How “easy” it must have been for the defenders to unleash their own private hell on the GIs who made it off of their Higgins Boat.

Though I have returned to Normandy every year since that tour in 2005, I still am overcome by a wave of pride, sorrow and wonderment at what the American soldiers faced, suffered and achieved on that June day.

And I am still amazed at how much more there is for me to learn about D-Day.

Over the years, the National WWII Museum has brought guests over to Normandy and has developed wonderful connections with locals.  These connections have flourished into friendships with tour guides, various museums, and individual civilians who provide our tours with wonderful assistance and access.

You too may join the National WWII Museum and our friends in Normandy on a journey this fall on our    D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy & Liberation of France Tour that takes history buffs on a one of kind travel experience hitting all the spots the Allies conquered.  Learn more about how you may join the tour here:  http://www.ww2museumtours.org/normandy/


Blog by Jeremy Collins, Director of Travel & Conference Services at the National WWII Museum.

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