Take a Jump into History in Saint-Mere-Eglise
CONTRIBUTED BY KATEY G.
My husband rarely has an opinion on where we travel. I wouldn’t say he’s apathetic; I am just not sure he cares 😉 That was until he said to me, “I want to go to Normandy on D-Day weekend.” I was worried about the kids missing school and the D-Day crowds. Never the less, it turned out to be one of our most enjoyable trips yet. From the history, the food, and the beaches, Normandy has something for everyone. I think what made the trip extra special were all of the anniversary events for D-Day. It was especially cool to see many, many, many Europeans dressed as American GI’s from WWII. It really helped our kids take a step back in time.
We hit all of the big Normandy stops: Mont-Saint-Michel, Utah and Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc, and Bayeux. Surprisingly, one of our favorite cities was Sainte-Mere-Eglise. The town’s significance during WWII is that it was one of the first towns liberated after the 82nd Airborne Division landed in the late hours of June 5, 1944. This is the town where paratrooper John Steele’s parachute caught on the town’s church spire. Today, the town still actively celebrates D-Day. The two most notable tourist destinations are the Sainte-Mere- Eglise Airborne Museum, and the Sainte-Mere-Eglise Church where Steele made his legendary arrival.
My children’s favorite museum on the trip was the Airborne Museum. Honestly, it was mine too. The museum’s website has a children’s notebook you can print off before coming. It helps to create an interactive experience in the first two buildings. It teaches children about life before, during, and after D-Day. The museum itself is split into three buildings. The WACO building focuses on the Gliders used during the Invasion of Normandy. The C-47 building shows the preparation in England before the parachute drop operations and features a fully restored C-47.
The last building is called Operation Neptune. It is here that the story of the 82nd and 101st Airborne comes alive. You get to walk through an interior mock-up of a C-47 and see mannequins seated as the paratroopers would have been on June, 5th. You feel the rush of air, the roar of the engines, and explosions in the distance. Then it is your turn to “stand in the door.” You walk out on a glass platform with wind blowing, dark skies and explosions all around you. Next, you see interactive exhibits that depict what happened to the paratroopers after the jump. My five year old went through this building three times. She was thoroughly captivated by the story of the paratroopers and the full experience the Operation Neptune building provides.
After leaving the museum we walked to the quaint town square with the church as its focal point. While not huge or breathtaking, the church is quite moving. Inside the church are stained glass windows honoring the Allies. To this day there is a parachute that hangs from the steeple to commemorate where John Steele landed. He was rescued by the Germans, then captured, and ultimately escaped.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the shops, having lunch, eating ice cream, and purchasing the best macaroons in France. Having people dressed in 1940s clothing and uniforms while exploring the city made the trip that much more special and meaningful. It is also lovely to see a few of the veterans of the 82nd and the 101st Airborne walking the streets. The town continues to honor them as heroes. It is in this town that my favorite travel quote was overheard. A woman in her late forties approached one of the WWII veterans and said, “I am a French girl. You liberated my grandmother and grandfather. Thank you.” The veteran, without missing a beat, said, “I probably chased your grandma around town too!” And that is something my children will not gleam from a history book.
Sainte-Mere-Eglise Airborne Museum
14 rue Eisenhower
Child: (6-16): €5.00
Family (2 adults, 2 children): €7.50 euro per adult, and €4.00 per child
*The museum takes MasterCard and Visa
**members of the 82nd and 101st Airborne are free
May to August: 9 am-7 pm
April and September: 9:30 am-6:30 pm
October to March: 10 am-6 pm
Closed in December and January, except during the Christmas Holidays (closed on the 24th, 25th, 31st, and New Year’s Day)
Heading to Normandy? Here is another Germany Ja article to help plan your trip.