5 Things You Didn’t Know About the D-Day Invasion at Normandy (and why you should visit)

Normandy-us-cem The American cemetery at Normandy.

We celebrated Memorial Day yesterday here in the United States, which honors all the men & women who died serving the U.S. Armed Forces. My Boy Scout troop (874 representing) planted flags one year at Arlington National Cemetery, which was a moving experience topped only by my visit to the Normandy American Cemetery. You may remember it from the opening and closing scenes of Saving Private Ryan.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZJANhWizUY]

If you’re planning a trip to Paris, I highly recommend taking the train (or a car) up to Normandy. Plus, you ought to also visit Mont Saint-Michel to get lost in the winding paths of this awe-inspiring monastery. Incidentally, I also found it to be one of the regions of France where my very limited French skills weren’t chided, which was nice.

  1. D-Day means…
    The “D” in “D-Day” doesn’t really stand for anything – it’s the term used for the day of the landing, which was subject to approval (and ended up being pushed back a day because of weather).

  2. Better late than never
    Though this marked the first decisive landfall by Allied forces onto the European Continent, World War II had been going on since 1939 (D-Day was June 6, 1944) and the turning point in the war had actually happened thanks to Soviet forces at Stalingrad in 1943 — yet more evidence that land wars in Asia are never a good idea.
  3. Technology from the swamps of Louisiana finished off Hitler
    That said, the success of the D-Day invasion was the death knell for the Nazi empire as they’d now begun losing ground on two fronts. The naval technology that made it all possible (the distinctive Higgins Boat that unloaded tens of troops at a time on the shores of Normandy) was designed by Andrew Jackson of New Orleans, who used them to navigate the shallow waters and swamps of the area.

    Hip-tip: Want to visit the history, but can’t quite visit France right now — head to New Orleans and visit the National WWII Museum, which was only the D-Day Museum when I visited, but has since expanded to include the Pacific front as well.

  4. There was a fake army faking an invasion that made the (real) Normandy Invasion so successful
    Operation Fortitude, one of the most effective Allied deception moves of the war, tricked the Nazis into thinking the invasion would come from Pas-de-Calais, dividing and delaying their forces significantly. The Allies knew how well it’d worked because we’d cracked the Nazi codes & ciphers.

    We’re indebted to Alan Turing, father of computer science, for his work that led to cracking these secret transmissions. Almost a decade later, he was charged under UK law for ‘gross indecency,’ punished by chemical castration, which drove him to commit suicide in 1954, ten years after his work dealt the finishing blow to Nazism.

  5. British, Canadians, Australians, and Kiwis also landed
  6. They don’t get much attention in Saving Private Ryan, but the Yanks weren’t the only ones who landed at Normandy. You’ll find loads of tourists visiting during the spring and summer, so don’t embarrass yourself while talking to some Brits. I visited in December and although the weather was dreary, having the beaches to yourself is a surreal and rather stunning experience.