On June 6th, 1944, Allied forces launched thousands of troops for the beaches of Normandy to help liberate France from Hitler, gaining an invaluable foothold that they expanded over the following months.
The small 11th century Norman town of Saint-Mere-Eglise was the first to be liberated. This June, 2014, marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day. To commemorate this monumental day, Sainte-Mere-Eglise will be hosting an historic parade featuring marching bands, military units, and cultural and civic groups. Besides the parade and the concert to follow, this quaint French town also has a number of museums and monuments honoring the different battles and events on D-Day and immediately following.
If you are only able to see one thing in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, do not miss the namesake church. Up close, visitors can still make out bullet holes in the beige brick and stone walls of the building, and a statue of a paratrooper hangs from the steeple, memorializing paratrooper John Steele, whose parachute was caught there as Allied and German troops fought below. Inside the church, you will find a remarkable stained glass window picturing the Virgin Mary looking over paratroopers on either side of her.
Located directly across from the church is the Musee Airborne, a tribute to the paratroopers who helped to liberate the town. Inside the museum, visitors will get an extensive look at the life of a paratroopers: his uniform, his duties, a look at an historic Douglas C-47 warplane. This museum has even been recently renovated to include a Waco Glider and an interactive exhibit that will take you through the events of D-Day and the following days.
From Sainte-Mere-Eglise, head towards the coast to see the Utah Beach D-Day Museum. Located above the remains of German bunker WN5, the Utah Beach Museum has a wide variety of exhibits, ranging from overall history of World War II, right down to individual accounts of D-Day. A recent addition includes an original B-26 Marauder medium bomber in D-Day colors with its own purpose-built hangar. History buffs will not be disappointed.
After visiting Utah Beach, be sure to drive down the coast line to stop by each of the other landing points for the Allied forces: the Americans at Omaha Beach, the British at Gold and Sword Beaches and the Canadians at Juno beach. Along the way, you will find other worthy monuments and museums, including the Pegasus Memorial, the Museum of the Landings in Arromanches, La Pointe du Hoc at Omaha Beach, The Juno Beach Centre, and many more.