Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc and "bloody" Omaha Beach in Normandy

View from a German bunker at Pointe du Hoc
D-Day - June 6, 1944

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force,

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. . . . I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory! 

General Dwight D. Eisenhower (Listen to the entire message)

Clouds building over Utah Beach.

Imagine that you're a twenty year old soldier far from home listening to General Eisenhower's message to the troops just prior to the D-Day Invasion. You've got a sick feeling in your gut and your best buddy looks as if he has seen a ghost. But you're a man and your comrades are watching, so you do what men do...

Since I haven't watched that many war movies or read any books about the Allied Invasion of Normandy, I didn't know what to expect when we visited Utah and Omaha Beaches. If pressed, I guess that I would have said that I envisioned broad stretches of windswept sand. My imagination proved to be correct for Utah Beach, which was a military success thanks to accurate naval and aerial bombing, but proved to be incorrect with respect to Pointe du Hoc and "bloody" Omaha Beach.

Seeing the 100-foot cliffs towering over the narrow beach at Pointe du Hoc, the thick walls of the strategically placed German bunkers and the 155 mm gun emplacements, I started to have an inkling of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles facing the Allied troops on June 6, 1944. I felt humbled by those who gave their lives and understand General Eisenhower's subsequent wish for eternal peace. For as he explained, "I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity."

Related post: The American Cemetery in Normandy and the story of Pvt. John A. Daum

Here's a list of movies that our guide, Bertrand Saudrais, suggested that we watch. Please feel free to make suggestions for additional movies or books in the comment section:

The Longest Day (1962)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

The Big Red One (1980)

Band of Brothers (2001)

The Sorrow and the Pity (Le Chagrin et la Pitie) (1969)

If you're planning a trip to Normandy to visit the D-Day beaches, please take a look at this very helpful thread started by Troggs at TripAdvisor with valuable information about how to plan your trip and lots of links.

Utah Beach, Normandy
"To the Officers and Sailors of the United States Navy whose
competence, courage and sacrifice enabled Operation Overlord."
Pointe du Hoc, Normandy. One of the 100-foot cliffs scaled by the 2nd Ranger Battalion. 
Pointe du Hoc's lunar-like landscape shows the force of the Allied bombs. 
The broad unprotected expanse of "bloody" Omaha Beach.


  1. Great post. It is hard to imagine what those soldiers were up against.

    I'd like to add Atonement (2007) to the list. Only about a third of the movie takes place during the war, but it does highlight the tragedy and brutality of it, and it features one long, unbroken shot at the Normandy beaches.


  2. What a superb blog. Thank you so much for posting it, and your continuing interest in the subject. From a short visit in 2009 I made this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqt7Q14v8iA which features information about the build-up to the invasion and shows the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches (Gold Beach), plus a section about Omaha Beach. Robert Capa's photographs still make me shudder. I must return there, and soon.

    (Unfortunately this video is currently blocked in the US, but part 2, which features Longues-sur-Mer, Poinr du Hoc and the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer is viewable world-wide, and that link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tqT1TxYk3g)

  3. nycgirl, Good to "see" you! Thanks for mentioning Atonement. I've read the book but haven't seen the movie. Now I'm glad that I waited because I'll know to watch for the long shot of the Normandy beaches.

    Tony, Interesting that you mention Robert Capa's photographs. Our guide told us that he took 106 pictures on Omaha Beach but that all of them were lost with the exception of 12 photos because someone made a mistake while developing them. I can't even begin to imagine what that must have felt like.

    Thank you for including the links for the YouTube videos that you made after your visit to Normandy. It's a shame that part I is blocked in the US but at least people who live there will be able to view part 2. I'm happy that it isn't blocked in France so that I could watch it.

  4. Good to "see" you, too! I'm really enjoying your writing.

    Correction: I did some fact-checking and found that Atonement features the beaches of Dunkirk, not Normandy. My mistake. Still a poignant and beautifully filmed movie, though.

  5. Thanks for the correction. Now I'm even more curious to see the beach scenes, especially since you were thoughtful enough to take the time to do some fact checking. Thanks again - I'm looking forward to watching it.

  6. Another interesting post, but I would like to counter your representation of soldiers with a sick feeling in their stomach and looking like a ghost. I've never been in the military, and I would be exactly as you describe given the situation, but I do think soldiers are trained, conditioned and re-trained to handle the horror of war with much less dread and emotion than we might expect. Many soldiers long for the arena of war, as I learned from the NY Times series earlier this year called A Year at War. I think of doctors and surgeons who don't flinch at dead bodies and blood and opening the body for surgery--and it's because of the training.

    This is not to diminish the horror that is the reality of war though. Just an observation.

  7. Joseph, Your comment gave me a lot to think about (I'm so glad that you're back!), but I think that the professional soldiers of today can't be compared with the soldiers of 1944 who grew up in a very different environment. Pvt. John Daum's (mentioned in the American Cemetery post) family has been kind enough to let me look at some of his papers, etc. and he was scared. Maybe his face didn't look like he had seen a ghost (artistic license, there), but these weren't sophisticated guys who had watched lots of war movies and played video games. For the most part, this was their first time abroad and I think some (most?) of them were scared.

    I didn't see the NY Times series, but I just finished an article in The New Yorker about the team that killed bin Laden. And you're absolutely right that they are trained to such a level that their professionalism takes control. They mentioned that the raid on the compound was just like any of the other raids that they had already done hundreds of times before. But D-Day wasn't like anything that had never occurred before. And most of those guys didn't have any experience in battle.

  8. To compare the Navy Seals to the soldiers of D-Day is not quite the same. I have read many accounts from different soldiers and a lot had stories where their 'buddies" had feelings about the jump on D-Day. When my brother went to VietNam, he was scared as well. Most of the soldiers during this time were drafted. The Seals go through extensive training to become Seals, so they do have a different mentality. Even with this I think they may even have some thoughts before going into battle. I think it would only be natural.


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