Honoring the “Greatest Generation” at D-Day Commemorations in Normandy

Today, we commemorated the 69th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy.

In the village of Arromanches, we met a witty British veteran in his nineties with a love of Louis Armstrong and the foxtrot. He was an extraordinary conversationalist. On this day designated to pay tribute to him, he took time to ask questions of me.

Bands played. Soldiers marched. Allied flags fluttered in the breeze.

Medals adorned the chests of veterans. Some veterans were escorted by younger family members. People wore poppy pins close to their hearts.

At the American Military Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, I crossed paths with a feisty American veteran who reminded me of my late grandfather. My grandfather fought in the Pacific during WWII.

Participants of the Colleville-sur-Mer ceremony laid wreaths beside a statue depicting the spirit of a man rising from waves of the ocean.

Visitors placed single stems of roses beside snow-white headstones. Cameramen captured veterans on film.

There were parachutists, women dressed in Rosie the Riveter-like apparel, and men dressed in 1940’s military uniforms.

On Omaha Beach, a vintage jeep drove alongside the water. In the sand, someone had etched the word, “D-Day.”

We visited an ugly concrete bunker. And we saw fields dotted with beautiful yellow blooms.

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“There on the beaches of Normandy I began to reflect on the wonders of these ordinary people whose lives were laced with the markings of greatness.” 

Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation.
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Detail of the exterior of the D-Day Museum in Arromanches.
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Laying wreaths at the American Military Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer.
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A young boy poses with an American WWII veteran.
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Participants at a D-Day commemoration event. Arromanches’ D-Day Museum is in the background.
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French military members march in the village of Arromanches.
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A vintage car drives on Normandy’s backroads.
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Re-enactors clad in vintage costumes enjoy brunch at an Arromanches café.
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Sand yachts on a Normandy beach.
Sand yachts on a Normandy beach.
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Shawn’s parents inspect a formidable bunker.
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Re-enactors playing the role of military police officers get playful with Shawn’s mother and me.
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The phrase ‘D-Day’ is etched into the sand, as a vintage military jeep approaches.
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Fields of gold in the Normandy countryside.

Where in the World?

Have you been to Normandy, or are you planning to visit in the near future? What sites did you find to be the most moving?

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and a co-founder of Eloquence. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta, as well as Heidelberg, Germany. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Though they are currently nomadic, they look forward to establishing a European home someday. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

37 thoughts on “Honoring the “Greatest Generation” at D-Day Commemorations in Normandy

    1. It was, Ron. Though I’d visited Normandy twice before (for Memorial Day and during the early spring) being there for D-Day was even more moving. Meeting the veterans made history come alive.

    1. Lynne, I’m glad to hear that the images moved you and gave you an idea of the day’s events. I’d been to Normandy several times before this visit, but having the veterans and re-enactors there certainly added a special element.

  1. Great photos – very journalistic! It looks like quite an nice celebration. Have you gone to the D-Day anniversary celebration before? When I visited, I was very impressed with the Normandy invasion sites.

    1. Christina, I’d been to Normandy several times before, but our prior visits had never coincided with D-Day anniversary commemorations. Do you recall which sites you visited? I found it interesting to see how each national memorial incorporated elements of the soldiers’ different cultures (Inuit traditions at Juno Beach, for example).

      1. As a bit of a history buff, we stopped by pretty much every sight along the coast. I like the cratered landscape of Ponte du Hoc because it actually gives you a sense of the devastation of the battles fought there. That being said, I’m glad the beach are popular vacation destinations for families; it’s good to see the region has developed and moved on.

      2. Christina, we also visited Pointe du Hoc in a prior visit; I still remember the sight of a young mother pushing her baby in a carriage, juxtaposed with the craters.

        I agree that it’s nice that the region is developing and remembering what happened there. During our visit, we saw a large group of schoolchildren excitedly running out to Omaha Beach to go land-sailing.

    1. Carol, I think it’s an important place to see. This was actually my fourth trip to Normandy, but the only time I was there for D-Day anniversary commemorations. If you can time your visit around those events in early June, I highly recommend it, as they make the history come alive.

  2. I remember the night of D-day, before they all landed. I’m not sure where the English and Canadian armies left from., but the Americans left from Weymouth Bay where I lived.One day the beaches were covered in barbed wire and thousands of khaki camouflaged vehicles, the next day it was empty.. No-one told me where they had gone !
    I lay awake on the night of the sixth, hearing the Armada flying across the channel on and on for hours. I thought Hitler had come for us, I only discovered they were ours a few years ago, reading the history of D-day. I was six then…

    1. Valerie, wow! It’s incredible to hear you recount your memories of the days leading up to D-Day; thank you for sharing what you recollect. I can’t imagine how frightening it was to be there at that time, especially as a child.

      Have you ever been to Normandy during D-Day anniversary commemorations?

    1. Suzanne & Pierre, I’ve been to the American, British and Canadian beaches at Normandy, and some of the cemeteries, but haven’t yet seen the German cemetery. War is terrible regardless of the side one is fighting on. I’m curious what that cemetery was like. Did it seem as though people were still coming to place flowers on their loved ones’ graves there today?

    1. Thank you so much, Tina. It is important to remember…

      I’d actually intended to share some thoughts about the day, as well as jot down a few anecdotes from some of the veterans we’d met, but unfortunately the internet connection in France didn’t allow it. Our B&B had a restrictive data plan that wouldn’t let us upload but a few pictures. Perhaps it was most fitting to let the pictures do all the talking. :)

  3. I always thought it would be nice to visit that part of Normandy, especially on June 6th. Your post gave me an opportunity to visit virtually. Your pictures are very nice.

    1. Thank you, Gerard, for your kind compliment about the images I captured that day. Here’s hoping you’ll be able to make it there some day in person. Next year is the 70th anniversary, so I suspect they’ll have even more events planned!

  4. Fantastic photos. The photo of the hats on the table really got me. What are we going to do when they are all gone?

    1. Megan, thank you.

      I remember seeing the 50th anniversary ceremonies on TV, and it’s hard to believe that nearly 20 years have since passed. I also pondered how the ceremonies will change in coming years, as less and less veterans are able to come. We met two veterans at the commemorative events – one 91 and the other 99 – and they were still ‘sharp as a tack.’ They talked about liking to dance the Charleston, and having seen Louis Armstrong perform. It was quite an honor to meet them.

    1. Thank you, Ruth. I took that third image of Omaha Beach, one of the American landing beaches. The re-enactor was all alone as he strolled the beach. I wondered what he was thinking, and if he was merely a local or someone with a personal tie to D-Day.

    1. It seems our travels are mirroring each other. :) Will you be staying somewhere in the area, or just visiting for a day? We also loved visiting Mont St. Michel two years ago. Think it’s about 2 hours from Bayeux, which is a hub for visiting the D-Day sites.

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