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The monuments of Utah Beach

The pathway leading down to Utah Beach (Photo: Author’s own)
The pathway leading down to Utah Beach (Photo: Author’s own)

Last week, we introduced you to the history and the exhibitions of the Utah Beach Museum (Read our earlier article - The Utah Beach Museum). In this article, we will look at some of the numerous memorials, historic items and remnants of war that can be explored in the vicinity of the museum. Some of the memorials are dedicated to different military units that fought on D-Day. These provide a place for the annual D-Day commemorations held by the armed forces of the former combatants. The nearby fields are an ideal site for reenactors during the celebrations. One can also find Allied vehicles along the elements of the former German Atlantic Wall, such as bunkers, beach obstacles and weapons. By walking through the beach, its dunes and the memorials, one can bring history to life and walk in the footsteps of the 23,000 soldiers who landed and fought here 77 years ago.
 
If you walk on the beach you will see that, as opposed to the bluffs of Omaha Beach, it is characterized by wide sandy beaches separated by dunes from the marshes. These positions were fired upon from German coastal batteries (Read our earlier article - The Crisbecq battery) but they were luckily suppressed by bomber runs and the artillery barrage coming from naval group Force "U" that was tasked to support the landings. On the northern edge of the beach, one can see a house with a red roof. This is the famous house which served as an orientation point for the landing forces. Since the Americans’ landing craft were pushed to the south by strong currents, they landed a couple of miles further south than expected, they realized that they are on the wrong spot when they saw that the house is not on their left (to the south) but on their right (to the north). This was when 57-year old Assistant Division Commander of the 4th “Ivy” Infantry Division, Brigadier General Theodor Roosevelt Jr., who landed on the beach in the first wave, eventually made the decision to “start the war from here” (Read our earlier article - Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, Jr.) as immortalized in the 1962 war movie, The Longest Day. While walking in the sand, visitors might be surprised to see locals riding horses on the beach. Horse riding is a quite popular sport among the people of Normandy. There is even a horse-racing track, a hippodrome just next to the premises of the museum.

The house with the red roof lying to the north of the museum (Photo: Author’s own)
The house with the red roof lying to the north of the museum (Photo: Author’s own)

From the beach, you can also see the Saint-Marcouf islands located just 4 miles / 6 km off the coast. When the Allies started planning Operation Overlord, they were greatly concerned about the two islands. A May 1944 aerial recon photo showed German troops in the Napoleonic fortress on one of the islands. A force from the U.S. 4th Cavalry Reconnaissance Regiment was assembled and placed under the command of Lt. Col. Edward C. Dunn. The tip of the spear, the very first men to wade ashore on D-Day, consisted of four volunteers. They secured the islands before the arrival of reinforcements (Read our earlier article - The first four to land).

Remnants of the Atlantic Wall at Utah Beach (Photo: Author’s own)
Remnants of the Atlantic Wall at Utah Beach (Photo: Author’s own)

In front of the museum, we will see a monument dedicated to the 4th “Ivy” Infantry Division, which was the first to land on Utah Beach. The monument was inaugurated on June 6, 1964 by General Omar Bradley, commander of the U.S. First Army on D-Day. The division belonged to the VII Corps led by General "Lightning" Joe Collins (Read our earlier article - General "Lightning" Joe Collins) and was later involved in the taking of the first deep-sea harbor in Normandy (Read our earlier article - The liberation of Cherbourg), which enabled the Allies to bring in much needed supplies. The Cherbourg harbor soon became the busiest port in the world for a while, with traffic exceeding that of New York. At the end of August 1944, the 4th Infantry Division played an important role in the liberation of Paris (Read our earlier article - The liberation of Paris).

The monument of the 4th Infantry Division (Photo: Author’s own)
The monument of the 4th Infantry Division (Photo: Author’s own)

Still in front of the museum, there is a Sherman tank and an American 90mm M1 anti-aircraft gun on display along with a couple of so-called Czech hedgehog beach obstacles and gun emplacements. The 90mm gun was lost in the English Channel on D-Day and was recovered after the war.

A Sherman tank and a Czech hedgehog beach obstacle at the entrance of the museum (Photo: Author’s own)
A Sherman tank and a Czech hedgehog beach obstacle at the entrance of the museum (Photo: Author’s own)
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In addition to the museum’s original Higgins Boat (LCVP - Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) used during D-Day, there is a replica LCVP and a statue dedicated to the developer of the craft, Andrew Jackson Higgins. The monument was donated by the citizens of Columbus, Nebraska, the birthplace of the inventor.

A statue depicting soldiers landing from a Higgins Boat (Photo: Author’s own)
A statue depicting soldiers landing from a Higgins Boat (Photo: Author’s own)

Behind the Higgins Boat monument, a statue called the Lone Sailor, has been inaugurated recently during the 77th anniversary of D-Day. It pays tribute to the sailors of the U.S. Navy and other Allied sailors who served during the Normandy landings. It is also dedicated to the 175 “Frogmen” of the U.S. Naval Combat Demolition Units, who cleared obstacles just hours before the landings on Utah and Omaha Beach and lost more than half of their comrades during the dangerous operation.

The new Lone Sailor monument (Photo: Author’s own)
The new Lone Sailor monument (Photo: Author’s own)

Nearby, on top of a dune overlooking the beach, lies the U.S. Navy Normandy monument. It was funded from private donations and was dedicated on September 27, 2008. The three men represent the roles of the U.S. Navy on D-Day: leadership, naval combat demolition units and naval artillery bombardment. On the base, you can find the names of the American ships involved in D-Day.

U.S. Navy Normandy monument (Photo: Author’s own)
U.S. Navy Normandy monument (Photo: Author’s own)

On the northern part of the museum grounds, a large square holds a group of monuments. This is also the place where the annual D-Day commemorations take place with the joint participation of the armed forces of the former belligerents.

A D-Day anniversary ceremony at Utah Beach (Photo: Author’s own)
A D-Day anniversary ceremony at Utah Beach (Photo: Author’s own)

A couple of steps away, built over a German blockhouse, lies the monument of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade, which was erected from the contributions of the men of the unit on November 11, 1944 by Colonel Caffey, the brigade’s commanding officer. It was officially dedicated jointly with the French authorities on June 6, 1945. On the wall of the blockhouse, a memorial plaque is dedicated to the American servicemen who died during Exercise Tiger, the ill-fated rehearsal of the D-Day landings which ended in disaster as the Allied convoy carrying the soldiers preparing for the mock landing was attacked by German E-boats, killing around 800 American servicemen (Read our earlier article - Exercise Tiger).

1st Engineer Special Brigade monument (Photo: Author’s own)
1st Engineer Special Brigade monument (Photo: Author’s own)

The next monument in the area is the monument of the 90th “Tough Ombres” Infantry Division. It is made from granite from the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria that was liberated by the division. Among other operations, they participated in the liberation of Cherbourg, the closing of the Falaise gap (Read our earlier article – The Falaise pocket) and finished the war in Czechoslovakia.

The monument of the 90th “Tough Ombres” Infantry Division (Photo: Author’s own)
The monument of the 90th “Tough Ombres” Infantry Division (Photo: Author’s own)

In the center of the square lies the American soldiers’ monument which is dedicated to all troops who lost their lives during the landing on Utah Beach. It was inaugurated on June 6, 1984 by General Lawton Collins in the presence of seven Allied heads of state during the 40th anniversary of D-Day. This spot has since become the central place of the annual commemorations at Utah Beach.

The American soldiers’ monument (Photo: Author’s own)
The American soldiers’ monument (Photo: Author’s own)

After visiting the monuments, you can have a sip of a local special cider and a nice meal with your fellow passengers, and buy some souvenirs at the Roosevelt Café, named after Teddy Roosevelt. It is a café with a rich history. The building used to be a fisherman’s hut. During the war, the Germans used it as an office for the Todt Organization, the civil and military engineering organization of the Third Reich. They also added a small bunker which served as a communications center. It even had fake windows painted on the outside to make it look like a part of the house. After D-Day, the main building was used by the U.S. Army’s 1st Engineer Special Brigade Communication Group, while the bunker housed the communications center of the U.S. Navy in support of the Naval Officer in Charge of Utah Beach. After the war, a restaurant was created in the building and the bunker was used to store beverages. Recently, the communications bunker was recreated and can be visited again.

Beaches of Normandy Tours
The predecessor building of the Roosevelt Café and the bunker with its fake windows in comparison with the current situation (Photos: U.S. Army, Author’s own)
 

Behind the Roosevelt Café, you will find the first milestone (or borne) of the Liberty Road (La voie de la Liberté in French) marking the landing of the Allies. Erected in 1947, the 1,147 milestones follow the route of the Allied forces and end in Bastogne, Belgium.

The liberty borne at Utah Beach (Photo: Author’s own)
The liberty borne at Utah Beach (Photo: Author’s own)

Note that all of our tours going through Normandy will stop at Utah Beach and the museum. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore this extraordinary site with us in person and remember those who fought for freedom here.

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