Yesterday started very early, with about 50 American fans in Paris for the Women’s World Cup got on a bus bound for Normandy to visit several D-Day sites. Similar tours were also taken in by families of the United States Women’s National Team players as well as members of the media. The trip started with a ton of traffic out of Paris and a 4.5 hour trip to the Normandy countryside, stopping at a rest stop along the way. There, fans mixed with some of the families who also made the trip, with lots of pleasantries and handshakes as they thanked each other for making the trip.
The first stop was in Arromanches, where fans took in lunch or shopped for various souvenirs. There was also what was left of Mulberry Bridge, a harbor area that was bombarded in the days preceding D-Day. The cliffs overlooking the English Channel, or La Manche (as the French call it) are surreal and one can’t help but wonder what it was like for Allied forces as they attempted to climb onto shore on that fateful day.
Next, it was to the Normandy American Cemetery, which overlooks Omaha Beach. Omaha Beach was the code name for the beach that American forces penetrated on D-Day at great cost of human life. Over 3,000 lives were lost on D-Day, and hundreds more in the days after, far and away the most of any of the land incursions from D-Day. The American Cemetery is a beautiful place in its solemnity, with crosses and Stars of David marking the over 9,000 gravesites at the ground. American Outlaws headed to the main memorial in the middle of the cemetery, where they presented a wreath on behalf of all its members.
The ceremony was a brief but humbling one, a guide remarking on the career of one of 4 women who are buried at the cemetery, Elizabeth Richardson, a Red Cross worker who died in a plane crash in Rouen, France in July 1945. After that remembrance, the national anthem was played throughout the cemetery, as all visitors stopped while it was played. Then, the wreath was presented, including one member who is an active military serviceman stationed in Okinawa.
After touring the cemetery, the next stop was Omaha Beach, where the main invasion occurred. With it being low tide, the beach stretched for over 200 yards, and you could tell how difficult it would have been for Allied forces to storm the beach in bad weather and high tide with so many places to get pinned down. You couldn’t help but remark how much of an achievement it was for troops to be able to get onto the beach, much less push back the German forces and win the day.
The final stop on the tour was to Pointe du Hoc, which was an area of cliffs just down the way from Omaha Beach where American Army Rangers claimed a tough stretch of terrain from German troops and then held it for days until reinforcements could come. Viewing the bunkers still present at Pointe du Hoc, it was incredible that they still stood and how cramped some of the spaces were as they were filled with hundreds of troops trying to stop all opposing forces.
A long but rewarding trip, fans started the return to Paris. Due to traffic, it wasn’t until 11:30 that fans on the trip made it back to their hotel. Still, about 15 of them either stayed up or woke up early to catch the United States Men’s National Team open the Gold Cup via laptop.
There will be a ton of epic moments that the USWNT provide us in this Women’s World Cup. But, I think even they will forgive us when we say that this trip to Normandy may be one of the true highlights for fans who made the trip to France.