Seventy-five years ago this June, Kansas farm boy turned general Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the order to launch Operation Overlord, more commonly known as D-Day. In anticipation of the anniversary of D-Day, here are more than 25 destinations on three continents to visit to honor the 70 million to 85 million people who lost their lives during the global conflict.
In the early dawn on June 6, 1944, 5,000 ships, 11,000 aircraft, and hundreds of thousands of young men stormed the beaches of Normandy in a surprise attack by sea, air, and land that changed the course of World War II. Code-named Operation Overlord, but forever known as D-Day, this invasion remains the largest amphibious assault in history.
As the world prepares to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, very few of the young men who survived World War II are alive to be honored as heroes. After all, even the youngest soldiers, sailors, and airmen are already in their 90s. However, more than seven decades later, around the world, many people still have a loved one who served in World War II or suffered as a victim of Nazi oppression. That’s why it’s so difficult to read the results of a recently published survey. It reports that one-fifth of Millennials — born between 1981 and 1996 and currently ages 23 to 38 — haven’t heard of or aren’t sure if they’ve heard of the Holocaust.
But the best way to prevent history from repeating itself is to ensure we learn from history. While it’s heartbreaking to know that the atrocities of World War II are beginning to fade from our memories, it’s encouraging to read that the study also found that virtually all American adults believe it is important to teach students about World War II in school to help ensure a devastating event like a war that stretches around the globe or the Holocaust doesn’t happen again.
While the Allied invasion of Normandy is recognized as the beginning of the end of World War II, there are no winners in war. Yes, it is understandable that a nation will fight back when attacked. It is honorable when nations band together to save innocent victims from unspeakable atrocities. We deeply appreciate those who rise up in these occasions, especially those who make the ultimate sacrifice like the nearly 10,000 young men lying beneath white marble Latin crosses and stars of David on a lush, green cliff overlooking the French coast at the Normandy American Cemetery. But if we allow oppressive regimes, genocide, and other unspeakable tragedies to happen again, their sacrifice is in vain.
As the world prepares to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this article shares more than 25 places to visit to honor those who fought during World War II and understand why they were called to serve. It also recognizes the victims of Nazi oppression, from Poles of all walks of life to Europe’s Jews, from political opponents to “undesirables” like the physically disabled and the LGBT community. Visit these destinations, either in person or virtually through this article, to educate yourself about World War II, honor those who served, and never forget the innocent victims of this unparalleled global conflict.
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Places to Visit to Commemorate the Anniversary of D-Day in Asia
Recommended by Alex Waltner, the Swedish Nomad
On August 6, 1945, just over a year after the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France, the first of two atomic bombs was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Although often considered the act that brought World War II to an end, this horrible event destroyed the city of Hiroshima and killed 146,000 people. It also left the locals with scars and deformations for years after the bombing.
The Atomic Bomb Dome, also known as Hiroshima Peace Memorial, stood almost directly under the explosion. However, for some reason, it didn’t crumble as other buildings fell into pieces. In fact, it was the only building still standing after the explosion.
The remains still stand today thanks to Hiroshima residents wanting to keep the atomic bomb site as a reminder of the tragic war event. It’s a constant reminder of what could happen when power is abused and enters the wrong hands. And it’s a constant reminder that we should strive for peace on Earth. Otherwise, we might experience the same horrors again, or even worse. In 1996, it was declared as a World Heritage Site.
Walking around the Atomic Bomb Dome is creepy. It doesn’t take much effort to imagine how much devastation the atomic bomb made when it was dropped in 1945. Visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial at 1-10 Otemachi, Naka Ward. And when you go, don’t miss the museum where you can see pictures of Hiroshima before and after the atomic bomb was dropped.
Recommended by Claire Drinkwater of Backpacking Bella
World War II’s devastating Battle of Okinawa started on 1 April 1945, just under a year after the D-Day Normandy landings 6,000 miles away in France. United States armed forces attacked and invaded Japan’s tropical Okinawa Islands in a bloody battle lasting almost three months, as part of their plan to defeat the Imperial Japanese Army.
The Cornerstone of Peace monument in Okinawa’s Peace Memorial Park bears the names of over 240,000 people of all nationalities who lost their lives in this vicious combat, including around a quarter of Okinawa’s civilian population. Most of the islands’ buildings were destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa, lost forever along with many of the region’s historical documents and cultural treasures.
Set in 12 square miles of open green space and cliffs overlooking the sea, the Peace Memorial Park is located in Itoman, a city on the southern tip of the main Okinawa Island, where the final fighting took place. The park encourages visitors to meditate on the harsh lessons of war and pray for ongoing peace. It contains 32 memorial monuments, including a 12-meter (40 foot) tall statue dedicated to world peace and a moving Peace Memorial Museum containing wartime photographs and artifacts telling the Okinawans’ story.
The Peace Memorial Park on Okinawa Island is an ideal place to spend a couple of quiet hours to contemplate the impact of World War II around the world and pay tribute to those who lost their lives, as we mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Recommended by Sue Davies of Travel for Life Now
On February 15th, 1942, the British Forces in Singapore surrendered to the Japanese at the site of the Former Ford Factory. It is considered to be one of the greatest defeats of the British armed forces. The Factory is now a museum dedicated to telling the story of the surrender and Japanese occupation of Singapore. It is an important place to learn about World War II in Singapore and to remember the anniversary of D-Day.
As a Jew and a US citizen, I have a deep experience of World War II and the holocaust. I have been to Auschwitz, Eastern Europe, and other sites related to D-Day and the war. But my knowledge focused mostly on Europe and was very limited with respect to World War II in Asia. I also knew a lot about Singapore, but I didn’t know this history. Going to the Former Ford Factory opened my eyes. World War II was brutal in Singapore.
At the time of World War II, Singapore was still a British colony, and the British wanted to maintain control during the war. The museum tells the story of the invasion from three perspectives: Singaporean, British, and Japanese. The British were woefully unprepared for the invasion. Once the Japanese gained control of Singapore, they rounded up thousands of Chinese men over the age of 12 (this was called “Sook Ching”) and killed them. Singapore’s small Jewish community also had to report to a POW Camp at Changi Prison. Most Jewish prisoners survived the war because the Japanese were more focused on controlling the Chinese population and anyone deemed anti-Japanese.
While the anniversary of D-Day recognizes the Normandy invasion 75 years ago, it’s also important to remember that this was a war that stretched around the world with horrible consequences in Asia as well.
Recommended by Sarah Carter from A Social Nomad
There are few places that I have visited that retain the memory of those who have gone before as much as Hellfire Pass in Northern Thailand. Hellfire Pass (or death railway) is the name of a railway cutting in the former Thai-Burma. It’s so-called because the sight of prisoners laboring at night by the light of a candle was said to resemble hell.
More than 200,000 Asians and over 60,000 prisoners of war were forced to build the 415 km (258 mile) railway that was to supply Japanese forces in Burma. The first group of POWs were mainly Australians, New Zealanders, and Brits from Singapore. Ultimately, 12,000 Allied POWs and 90,000 civilians died building the Burma Railway.
The steep walls of the pass drowned out the noise of the jungle, making the silence as oppressive as the heat and the constant whine of mosquitoes. The jungle is slowly reclaiming the remaining track. However, you can still walk along a 2.5 km (1.5 mile) path which is a fitting place to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day. The audio guide provided by the Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre and Memorial Walking Trail recounts survivors’ personal stories and reminds us, “When you go home, tell them of us and say we gave our tomorrow for your today.”
Places to Visit to Commemorate the Anniversary of D-Day in Europe
Recommended by Kris from Nomad by Trade
The small French beachside town of Arromanches-les-Bains played a huge role on D-Day and throughout the following months. Located next to Gold Beach in the UK sector, it was one of two locations chosen to host artificial harbors to offload troops. The Allies knew that they would need a port to offload troops and supplies in order to make the invasion a success, but the natural ports along the coast were too heavily fortified. Their solution was to construct barriers and piers and tow them across the English Channel after D-Day. Older and damaged ships were also deliberately sunk to protect the new harbor. The scale of these “mulberry harbors,” as they were known, is impressive.
Unfortunately, a storm destroyed most of the mulberry harbors at Omaha Beach before it saw much action, so the one at Arromanches-les-Bains was responsible for offloading the majority of the troops and munitions in the early days. Seventy-five years later, visitors can spot remaining bits of the breakwater peeking above the waves. At low tide it’s possible to walk along the beach and see even more wreckage in the sand. It’s a fascinating reminder of the ingenuity of the Allies. It’s also personally significant to me, because we believe that my grandfather arrived in continental Europe through the mulberry harbor there that summer. While you’re visiting, pay a visit to the Musée du Débarquement, which commemorates the D-Day battle and the logistics of the mulberry operation.
Recommended by Diana from The Elusive Family
The horrors of World War II are most prevalent in one of history’s most infamous concentration camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. Known as the city of Oświęcim in Polish, this camp is the pinnacle of the atrocities that define the war.
Auschwitz was the largest death camp in Poland, consisting of numerous facilities, some located several kilometers away from one another. It is known for killing 1.1 million people. Non-Jewish Poles, political prisoners, Jehovah’s witnesses, and numerous other people were killed along with Jews.
The very first train heading to Auschwitz on June 14, 1940, from Tarnów, Poland, held 728 people. Only 20 were Jewish. The war targeted Poles from the beginning. My grandmother was nine-years-old, living in Tarnów, and vividly recalls the day the first transport left for Auschwitz stating that no one knew where the train was going or what awaited them.
Poles don’t commemorate the anniversary of D-Day the same way that other allied nations do. And many Poles who lived through the war haven’t been to Auschwitz or have only visited briefly. A deep irreparable wound remains in Poland, one that cannot be undone. The incredible devastation that took place on their land with Auschwitz as the ultimate symbol of doom is a constant reminder of what occurred.
Yes, Poles remember the happiness and relief upon hearing the victory of the allied nations, but the aftermath of the war had taken its toll on them. When asked today about how she remembers the end, my grandmother states, “The bells. They rang from the church and we ran outside, and we cried. We knew the war was over.”
Recommended by Sharon Odegaard of Exploring Our World
After D-Day, Allied troops began the long, slow fight to Germany. While poised just across the border of Germany in Belgium in December 1944, British and American forces woke up one morning to a last-ditch, massive surprise attack. Now known as the Battle of the Bulge, or the Battle of the Ardennes Forest, this was one of the largest land battles of World War II. The Germans threw all they could muster against the Allies. The battle devastated small towns caught in its path. One of these most affected was Bastogne.
The Germans’ goal was the port of Antwerp, Belgium. At first, they bypassed Bastogne, forging ahead to create the “bulge.” Still, the Germans needed this town. Why? Bastogne lies at the center of seven roads, and they were crucial for moving troops and supplies. One by one, the roads fell to German control. By December 21, the American troops in Bastogne were surrounded and the town lay under siege.
The Allies shivered in their foxholes on the outer perimeter of the town in the snowy woods called Bois Jacques. Easy Company of the 101st Airborne dug in here and held off the Germans against immense odds. They suffered from lack of winter clothes, food, ammunition, and medical supplies. Some of the trenches exist today, and you can pay respects to these men on this hallowed ground.
The Germans, understanding the dire situation of the Allies, sent two men into Bastogne on December 22 to present a demand to surrender to Allied Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe. The Allies were cut off from all aid, so it was time to give up, right? McAuliffe’s famous reply was “Nuts!” The Germans, probably baffled, returned to their lines. A few days later, General George S. Patton rolled down one of the seven roads with his tanks, and that was the beginning of the end of the siege of Bastogne.
Pro Tip: Today, Bastogne hosts the Bastogne War Museum, a must see museum in the south of Belgium.
Recommended by Elisa from France Bucket List
The Caen War Memorial and Museum, located at the outskirts of the city of Caen, is a very interesting museum to visit during your tour around the D-Day sites in Normandy France. This museum, built on top of the underground command post of General Major Wilhelm Richter, is focused on the D-Day landing and the following Battle of Normandy. It is an excellent introduction to any D-Day landing tour.
The Caen War Memorial and Museum consists of a simple building flanked by all the flags of the Allied countries that fought in World War II and an inscription in French by the local poet Paul Durier. “Broken by pain, lifted up by my brothers, a river of freedom gushes from my wounds.” The most important exhibition room is the one dedicated to the D-Day landing, which is complemented by a very emotional 30-minute short film about the events.
Other interesting parts of the museum include the exhibition on the sequence of causes and events that preceded World War II in Europe after World War I, and the German bunker, which displays the daily life of the German soldiers working in this command post. The Caen War Memorial and Museum is surrounded by the British, American, and Canadian Memorial Gardens, which pay tribute to soldiers killed in the war.
Pro Tip: This is a helpful guide to D-Day sites in Normandy, France.
Recommended by Claire of Claire’s Footsteps
If you’re in England around the anniversary of D-Day, you must incorporate a visit to the Churchill War Rooms into your London itinerary. Located in Westminster near Downing Street, the Churchill War Rooms is an underground complex of corridors and rooms that the British involvement in the Second World War was directed from.
Highlights include conference and map rooms, various people’s bedrooms (including Churchill’s underground war time room) and various coding devices used in the war. Everything was underground to shelter from the Luftwaffe attacks, and hundreds of people used this network every day.
There is also a museum about Churchill’s life, where visitors are invited to learn all about this famous prime minister, his achievements and downfalls, and what he did to help the country in World War II.
He was certainly one of the most crucial players when it came to World War II, so learning about him is fundamental to getting an overall education on the war, which helps us ultimately think about what lessons we can take from the event. There is even a section on D-Day and Churchill’s involvement.
Some people love Churchill, some people hate him. He is one of the 20th century’s controversial characters – he did some good and some bad things – but it is unarguable that he was one of the most influential people of the war, and history would not be the same without him.
Recommended by Jorge from Travel Drafts
The Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany was the first concentration camp created by Adolf Hitler. Although it was intended to be an “education camp” for political prisoners, its inhuman conditions and harsh policies became a blueprint for all the other concentration camps. Dachau ultimately held Jews and prisoners of all sorts including Poles, Russians, gypsies, artists, intellectuals, homosexuals, and the mentally and physically disabled. In total 206,206 prisoners were held at Dachau, and 31,591 died.
In 1945, on the 29th of April, the Dachau Concentration Camp was liberated by US forces. When the soldiers saw the horrible conditions and atrocities that prisoners were subjected to at the concentration camp — malnutrition, disease, and unspeakable medical experiments — they executed 50 SS officers.
Although it is a sad and tragic place, visiting Dachau is such an important experience to learn about this part of history. The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is only 30 km (19 miles) from the center of Munich and can be reached via the S2 train. The memorial is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is no entrance fee, but you’ll need to pay €3 for parking if you go by car. The best way to visit the camp is doing a tour with an official guide. That will give you the perspective of how people lived in horrible conditions of the camp. With time people tend to forget how awful things were, and how inhuman we can be. We should learn from history so the same mistakes aren’t repeated.
Recommended by Jeremy of Cultura Obscura
World War II is arguably the most devastating event of the 20th Century. When looking at everything that happened during that time, it is possible to lose sight of anything but the immense litany of destruction, despair and death. However, despite this, not everything is total darkness and tragedy.
The East Grinstead Museum in West Sussex, England, showcases how, sometimes, against almost impossible odds, some good can rise from the ashes of great evil. As a permanent exhibit, the museum documents the efforts and innovations of the Centre for Plastic and Jaw surgery at East Grinstead’s Queen Victoria Hospital (QVH). Originally a small, all-purpose hospital, QVH was adapted into a specialty center for burn treatment and facial reconstruction following the increased need for such procedures at the outbreak of World War II. Under the direction of Dr. Archibald McIndoe, a pioneering New Zealand surgeon, QVH rose to the forefront of medical rehabilitation. Importantly, this occurred not only in surgical method but also in psychological recovery. Many of the patients under McIndoe’s care were British RAF pilots, shot down by enemy fighter planes.
With many suffering horrific burns and facial scarring, most men thought their lives were over, despite having survived battle. But the innovation from McIndoe and his team, combined with their recognition of the need for reintegration into society after the war, led patients not only to be fully accepted back into the community of East Grinstead, but also to form the exclusive “Guinea Pig Club” (complete with club anthem), so named due to the experimental treatments they underwent at the hospital.
With the anniversary of D-Day, it’s important to remember not only the tragic losses of World War II, but also the lasting effects of the determination of the human spirit that they brought about.
Recommended by Jacki from DC Day Tripping
Hanstholm Fortress, located along the coast in north-western Denmark, is a large fortification built in 1941 during the German occupation of Denmark during World War II. It was built to operate in tandem with another installation near Kristiansand in Norway to prevent the British fleet from entering Skagerrak – the stretch of water between Denmark and Norway. Hitler used this as part of his “Atlantic Wall” system, a series of fortifications that spread from Kirkenes in Norway to the Pyrenees Mountains. It is one of the largest bunkers that the Germans built in Denmark.
Today the stunning fortification compound features a bunker museum, where several of the rooms in the bunker surrounding the large gun battery have been restored to their original state to give visitors an idea of how the soldiers lived and carried out their duties manning the gun battery. Visitors can tour the ammunition stores, the gun pit, and the crews quarters.
The complex also has a World War II museum packed with artifacts from the bunker and surrounding area. One extremely interesting exhibit is a propeller from an American B-17G Flying Fortress that was shot down by the anti-aircraft artillery at Hanstholm February 22, 1944. The bomber had participated in a raid on Aalborg and was flying over Hanstholm on its way back to a base in England. The propeller was found in fishing net in 1996 and brought to the museum. The museum also has an exhibit that shows how both German troops and the civilian Danish population lived and worked in the shadow of the giant fortifications.
The artifacts, pictures, and documents on display provide visitors with real insight into a part of World War II history that many people do not know about.
Recommended by Dagney of Cultura Obscura
The scale and devastation of World War II is so vast that many tragedies have not been shared outside of the communities directly affected.
One such tragedy is the Katyn massacre.
Starting on April 4th, 1940, the NKVD (a Russian agency tasked with overseeing the country’s prison and labor camps) began the mass executions of approximately 22,000 Polish citizens across the Soviet Union. Over half of those murdered were members of the Polish Army, while the rest were Polish intelligentsia, labeled as dangerous anti-Soviet nationalists.
Despite multiple execution sites, the name of the massacre comes from the Katyn Forest in Russia. In 1943, a mass grave was unearthed in the forest by the Nazis, whom the Russians immediately blamed for the atrocity. It took many years for the Polish people to know what transpired during the Katyn Massacre. And many lost their lives trying to discover the truth.
Today, this tragic event is memorialized at the Katyn Museum in Warsaw, Poland. The museum, opened in 1993, is housed in part of the Warsaw citadel. It is an eye opening and poignant museum that anyone looking to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day or better understand the horrors of World War II should visit. While the museum runs through the history and events surrounding the massacre, this is not its most indelible attribute. Rather, the Katyn Museum is largely curated with memorabilia found on the Katyn Massacre victims. There are stacks and stacks of recovered possessions, including glasses, military pins, chess pieces, and even a teddy bear. As you walk through looming display cases, literally surrounded by these objects, it really hits home that every single one of these items is all that remains of a life, snuffed out by a regime of hate.
Recommended by Chelsea from Pack More into Life
World War II had a huge impact on so many lives throughout Europe and around the world. As the years continue on and the anniversary count gets into the mid-70s, commemorating World War II is frequently on my mind. My entire family has served in the military dating back to the Civil War. My husband is currently serving in the armed forces, and we were able to commemorate the 74th anniversary of D-Day in the Normandy region of France in 2018. We spent an entire week taking part in ceremonies, visiting the sites, and talking with the veterans from World War II who are now well into their 90s. It was an incredible experience.
One of the places that we visited was the American Military Cemetery just up the hill from Omaha Beach. Having lived near Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC, it has a special place in my heart. There is a poignant beauty in the endless rows of white crosses, each engraved with the name of a service member lost in the line of duty. Nothing can affect you more than hearing the stories featured in the visitor center and seeing photos of those who lost their lives fighting for the country they loved and trying to protect innocent civilians caught up in war in Europe.
After a stop at the visitor center, walk counter-clockwise around the cemetery to view the overlook onto Omaha Beach, around the rows of the fallen, and back toward the memorial. Pause at the memorial to get an understanding of how the day unfolded with multiple landings along the beaches and cliff sides with military operations unfolding throughout the day. With over one million visitors each year, the American Military Cemetery in Normandy is a must see destination to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day.
Recommended by Chris of Explore Now or Never
My recent visit to the Omaha and Utah Beaches in Normandy, France—site of the two major American amphibious assaults on D-Day—was a very personal journey. My grandfather arrived in France just a few days after the landings there, as an interpreter for General Patton. He was a barely grown man from rural Virginia at the time. In fact, he jumped out of an airplane the very first time he took a flight.
While he didn’t like to talk about the war, he did enjoy sharing his experience of the warm hospitality and gratitude he was greeted with in France, and later Belgium, as he slept in barns and chateaux across the continent. So when I finally saw the landing beaches in Normandy for myself more than 70 years later, I was particularly moved.
Despite detailed planning for many months, the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were scattered far from the drop zones due to high winds and dense fog on that fateful day, making it impossible to support the amphibious landing on the beaches. Before the war, Omaha Beach was considered the “Riviera of the North” by Parisians. But on D-Day, 2,400 men were lost there. And yet, just a short way down the Normandy coast, just 97 men—less than one percent of the 28,000 men that landed on Utah Beach that day—gave their lives.
As we surveyed Omaha Beach, noticing the many sunbathers and beach umbrellas, one person in our group took offense. “I think it’s a desecration,” she complained.
“But it is why we fought,” our guide answered her. “So that life could return to normal for future generations.”
Recommended by Michele of Legging It Travel
One of the most confronting places we visited in France was Oradour-sur-Glane, where time stood still on the 10th of June 1944. On this day the Nazis rounded up the village, herding the men into barns and the women and children into the village church, machine gunning them down where they stood, then burning their bodies and the buildings they were in.
While the Commander of the 4th SS Panzer Grenadiers justified his actions as a reprisal for kidnappings by the Resistance other theories are that the regiment had just been reinforced by volunteers from Alsace. The massacre was a “blooding” for the newcomers, a “right of passage” for members of the fanatical SS unit.
Even now, the silence encompasses you as you walk the streets taking in the remains of the buildings, thinking about the lives that were lost on that day. These were not soldiers who signed up to fight a war, but everyday people going about their business and doing their work — wives cooking lunch for their husbands coming home from work and children playing in their backyards.
At the end of the war, French leader Charles De Gaulle declared the area be maintained as a memorial and museum to all those who died. Today there is a state of the art museum explaining how and why it all happened, but nothing can take away the harrowing feeling of walking through the now abandoned village. Just imagining the horror the villagers were confronted with and how even the innocent can be caught up in wars they have no control over less a stark message about all wars and reminder of how lucky many of us are to live in places of peace.
Recommended by Joanne Norman of Sunsets and Roller Coasters
Prague’s Pinkas Synagogue is part of the Jewish Museum of Prague. After World War II, it was transformed into a memorial for those who were killed in the Holocaust. It is truly an incredible memorial and definitely warrants a visit while in Prague. It was an experience that even our children (ages 10-15) will never forget.
To understand the importance of the Pinkas Synagogue, it’s important to understand the position of the Czech Jews during the war. Most of Prague’s Jews faced horrendous times. Aside from large numbers being sent directly to extermination camps, over 150,000 people, mostly Jewish Czechs, were transported to Terezin. They had been told this would be a ghetto where they would be able to self-govern but it was not. It was a transport camp where people would stay until sent by truck loads to their deaths. While not an extermination camp, over 33,000 died in Terezin itself due to terrible conditions.
The Pinkas Synagogue is a memorial to all of these people. The walls of the main floor of the Pinkas Synagogue are inscribed by hand with the names of over 77,000 Czech victims of the Holocaust along with the town where they lived, their date of birth and the date of their disappearance. It truly is incredible how many suffered and this act of hand writing their names in remembrance is a striking memorial.
On the second floor, there is a collection of incredible paintings and sketches. This artwork was done by the children of Terezin.
Of all the Jewish people taken to Terezin, 15,000 were children under age 15. Less than 150 of these children survived. Many Jewish scholars and teachers had been sent to Terezin and they continued to teach the children in secret. Before one particular teacher was taken on rail transport to her death, she hid some of the children’s paintings in a suitcase under a bunk. They were found after the war. These paintings include the name of the child, the date the picture was made and the date of their death. Very few survived. This is an amazing memorial to the children lost at Terezin, children that should never be forgotten.
Recommended by Vanessa Hunt of Wanderlust Crew
Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument, located high on a cliff, just west of the American Cemetery and overlooking Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, is one of the most moving destinations to commemorate World War II and the lives lost and sacrifices made.
During World War II this was the highest point between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach. The German army fortified the area with concrete casements and gun pits, giving them a huge advantage. On D-Day, the United States Army Ranger Assault Group successfully assaulted and captured Pointe du Hoc after scaling the 100-foot cliffs.
The site has been left virtually untouched since that day in June 1944. It is impressive to look down at the cliffs and imagine how difficult it must have been to scale up 100 feet and then launch an attack. You can see where bombs were dropped from above, forming huge craters all around the clifftop. You can explore these bomb craters along with the semi-destroyed German gun pits.
A day trip from Paris, Pointe du Hoc is truly a moving place to be to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day. It’s one of the best-preserved battle sites from World War II, and it’s easy to imagine what it really must have been like for those soldiers. You can also spend the day (or many days really) in Normandy, sharing in the various D-Day commemorations.
Recommended by Betsy of Passing Thru
Sainte-Mère-Église is the first village liberated by air during D-Day landings beginning the night of June 5-6th, 1944. The story of that night is told by author Cornelius Ryan in the book The Longest Day that was also made into a movie in 1962 starring John Wayne.
Because weather conditions had changed orders and created confusion about paratrooper drop zones, there was a considerable amount of regrouping and dispersal among American units. This actually worked in the Allies’ favor. The Germans were convinced the real invasion was going to happen in Calais, France, and believed the first Normandy landings were simply a diversion.
The 82nd Airborne dropped on Sainte-Mère-Église during a fire emergency which townspeople and German occupiers were fighting. As such, paratroopers were sitting ducks in the glare. The parish church today bears an effigy of one paratrooper, John Steele, who became stuck on the roof and played dead as he dangled above the ground fight below. The church has stained glass windows depicting the Virgin Mary, paratroopers, their insignias, and their patron saint, St. Michael. The church exterior is marked with bullet holes, and a museum honoring the 82nd Airborne has been built on the site of the fire. By 6:00 am the morning of June 6, 1944, Sainte-Mère-Église was in control of American troops, interrupting German communications and troop access from Cherbourg.
Visitors today will want to wander the village center, visit the church and museum, and peruse photography from 1944 to match it up to the village’s current day appearance. Very little has changed. If you’re coming from Paris by public transport, take the train to Carentan and a taxi to the village from there.
Recommended by Allison of Sofia Adventures
An unavoidable part of acknowledging D-Day, considered the beginning of the end of World War II, is acknowledging the lives that were lost before this day. Millions of Jews, Romani, people with disabilities, LGBT, and other “undesirables” were murdered in concentration camps. While the largest concentration camps in Poland and Germany are widely known, the reality is that there were hundreds of such camps spread across the countries that fell to the Nazis. Several such camps can be found in Serbia, a country that often gets ignored when talking about the Holocaust.
However, Serbia was one of the places whose Jewish and Romani populations were hit hardest. In fact, one SS officer declared, “Serbia is the only country in which the Jewish question and the Gypsy question has been solved.” To fight this erasure, I strongly recommend that people visit the numerous memorial sites that the Yugoslav and Serbian governments have erected over the past few decades to memorialize the lives lost during this time.
While you certainly should visit the Crveni Krst Concentration Camp (also known as the Red Cross Concentration Camp due to a Red Cross facility located nearby) and Bubanj Memorial Park in Nis or the Sumarice Memorial Park in Kragujevac, both are a little off the beaten path for your average Serbia traveler. However, the city of Belgrade has its own unique memorials to the Jewish population which was nearly entirely decimated during World War II. The most touching site can be found on the banks of the Belgrade waterfront on the Dorcol Promenade, where you can find a haunting spomenik which resembles a menorah on fire. A spomenik is an abstract statue dedicated to a major loss, built in a socialist realist style during the Yugoslav era. While Yugoslavia is no more, many of such statues can be found all around the ex-Yugoslav countries, particularly in Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Macedonia.
If this speaks to you, you can also visit the Jewish cemetery in Belgrade which has a spomenik dedicated to the Belgrade Jews who were killed, as well as the Memorial Park Jajinci just south of Belgrade which is dedicated to the 80,000 Jews, Romá, and others who were murdered here.
Places to Visit to Commemorate the Anniversary of D-Day in North America
Recommended by Tim from The Walking Tourists
A Nebraskan played a major role in World War II without ever picking up a rifle. Andrew Jackson Higgins of Columbus designed the landing craft used by the Allies as they stormed Normandy Beach on D-Day. Known as a “Higgins Boat,” the amphibious craft carried soldiers from their ships to the beach. Higgins, born and raised for a few years in the east-central Nebraska community, based his invention on the shallow waters of local rivers.
Anyone who has seen the movie Saving Private Ryan can recall the opening scene of Tom Hanks yelling out instructions to his soldiers as they stand in the craft, with bullets flying around them. Or, maybe you’ve seen the boats in the World War II epic, The Longest Day.
Columbus recognizes its hometown hero with a life-sized replica of the landing craft in Pioneer Park. The craft features three soldiers just outside the craft, standing on a beach’s sand. The memorial anchors the park’s other veterans and national memorials.
Pro Tip: Here is a bucket list of what to do and see when you visit Nebraska.
Higgins’ creation was strongly supported by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the architect of the Allies’ D-Day invasion, which ultimately led to victory over Nazi Germany. In later years, he referred to Higgins as “the man who won the war…” as Eisenhower believed the Allies wouldn’t have succeeded without the craft to help them in the shallow water.
Higgins created the landing craft as the founder and leader of Higgins Industries in New Orleans. Following a family move from Columbus to Omaha, Higgins eventually settled in New Orleans as an adult.
Recommended by Sage Scott, the Everyday Wanderer
Raised in the small Kansas town of Abilene, Dwight D. Eisenhower would grow up to be a five-star general and president of the United States. Visiting his presidential library, museum, and boyhood home gives visitors a glimpse into the man who masterminded the Normandy Invasion that changed the course of history.
- When Dwight D. Eisenhower headed off to college at West Point, his mother was devastated. She was a pacifist who didn’t believe in war, but she believed in her sons and supported Dwight nonetheless.
- Although Eisenhower served on active duty in the US Army for more than 30 years during two world wars, he never saw a day of combat. So how did he ultimately achieve the rank of five-star general? Eisenhower was an excellent military strategist, as demonstrated on D-Day.
Visitors can also see a variety of artifacts from World War II and pay their respects to General Eisenhower in the chapel where he is buried next to his wife, Mamie, and their infant son.
Pro Tip: A $10 million renovation of the museum won’t be completed until Fall 2019, but here is a sneak peek of the newly renovated Eisenhower Museum.
“We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it.”
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
Recommended by Ava, the Gold Country Cowgirl
Although the D-Day that most people think of occurred on the beaches of Normandy, every battle has its D-Day — the day the offensive begins. D-Day for the Battle of Iwo Jima was February 19, 1945. When the Marines landed on the beach, they expected the battle to last only a few days to take the island and its three strategic airfields. The island had been bombarded by air and ships off the coast for hours. However, they didn’t know the Japanese were underground in a system of bunkers and tunnels. In the end, the fighting went on for five weeks and is considered one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.
After just four days of fighting, the first airfield and Mt. Suribachi, the highest point on the island, were secured. This is when the iconic photograph by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” was taken. This photograph was the inspiration for the world-famous U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery. Although the monument depicts a single incident, it is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in defense of the United States since 1775.
It may surprise you to know that the “original” Iwo Jima Monument resides on the grounds of the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas, about 45 miles west of South Padre Island. After World War II, it took sculptor Dr. Felix W. de Weldon nine and a half years to create the massive model. The model was disassembled and trucked to Brooklyn where it was cast in bronze. After years in storage, the original model was donated to the Marine Military Academy.
The monument, with its flag unfurled against a blue sky, is truly awe-inspiring. When you visit here, you will be joining thousands of others who come to remember all who made the ultimate sacrifice and give thanks for our freedom.
Recommended by Theresa Goodrich of The Local Tourist
Stepping onto the grounds of Manzanar National Historic Site is devastating. It’s in central California, just north of the Alabama Hills, the filming location for hundreds of movies and commercials. It sits on the side of US-395 and if you didn’t notice the guard tower, you might not notice it at all.
That guard tower is a replica of one that existed from 1942 until 1945. Some of the people it guarded were American citizens. They weren’t criminals; they just happened to be of Japanese descent.
This historic site is the former Manzanar War Relocation Center. That title is a euphemism, since the place was an internment camp. During the panic after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forcible removal of anyone with Japanese ancestry, whether they were citizens or not. It’s a dark period in U.S. history, but it’s important to remember.
The site itself is open until dusk, and while visiting during the visitor’s center hours isn’t required to realize the impact of what happened, it’s better to go when you can get the full story. You can see inside the barracks and take a 3.2 mile driving tour that will give you an idea of how the 10,000 prisoners lived.
Recommended by Cassidy of Georgia Family Adventures
As early as February 1944, the American Air Force began paving the way for the June 6th D-Day invasion. Fighter pilots from the Eighth Air Force bombed railroad tracks, bridges, and airfields to weaken the German Army. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, pilots from the Eighth Air Force completed more than 2,300 sorties to support the troops on the ground.
That’s why The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force is an ideal location for commemorating the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. So many allied nations lost loved ones in this single, most decisive event in the great crusade to end the Nazi threat of world domination. Their sacrifices should not be lost, but memorialized. And The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force serves the memory of the men and women who served in the pursuit of freedom.
In addition to honoring the airmen of the 8th Air Force, the museum also pays tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen and the Fly Girls of World War II. Numerous exhibits give a glimpse into the life of an airman during World War II. For example, there is the Mission Experience, which has a large mural of an airfield and a trio of mission briefing videos. The museum grounds are very well kept and set a tone of tranquility and reflection.
The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force also proudly displays several World War II aircraft throughout the museum grounds. This amazing collection includes a fully restored B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-24 Liberator, a P-51 Mustang, and a Messerschmitt Bf-109.
Outside the museum there are two wonderful places to commemorate the Normandy invasion to liberate Europe. The Memorial Garden has several granite markers set around a very serene reflecting pool. The markers have been donated by private citizens and veterans who served their country in every great measure. Additionally, the Chapel of Fallen Angels is a Gothic style church with very ornate stained glass windows, faithfully designed with the air corps in mind.
Pro Tip: If you visit The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, be sure to explore nearby Savannah, Georgia, and see why it is an up and coming US travel destination.
Recommended by Catherine of Traveling with the Littles
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans provides one of the most comprehensive and detailed accounts of World War II anywhere in the world. Its mission is to “tell the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today.” But it does so much more than that. It’s an extremely important place to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day because it not only provides a painstaking account of D-Day but also of how we got there.
The museum is comprised of five buildings. Building one is where you’ll begin, and it features a number of exhibits, elaborate graphics, and artifacts detailing the years leading up to the war. Building three showcases the European and Pacific theaters and the events that unfolded throughout those areas of the world.
This war not only affected the soldiers and their families’ lives but also changed the fabric of American life. There is an exhibit highlighting the role that women and minorities played in the War and how their lives were specifically changed.
The museum makes you feel as though you’ve gone back in time. There are thousands of artifacts from the 20s, 30s and 40s which are impeccably displayed, and explained through thoughtful and intriguing narratives. The European and Pacific theaters are so intricately and elaborately designed that you feel like you are on the beaches of Normandy or the jungles of the South Pacific.
The culmination of the museum experience is the D-Day exhibit, located on the third floor of building one. Even though we know the outcome of the war, the story is presented in such a thoughtful and meaningful way that it’s intriguing nonetheless. I found this to be a very somber area of the museum. Although the Allies ‘won’ the war, the takeaway is that nobody won.
World War II was such a horrific experience, and this museum serves to remind us of that. In commemorating the anniversary of D-Day we must remember how brutal and deadly this war was, so that history never repeats itself.
Recommended by Suzanne of Boomeresque
On our latest trip to Hawaii, when we were making our approach to land at Honolulu on the island of Oahu, I looked down and realized we were flying over Pearl Harbor, still a United States naval base today. It occurred to me that I had the same bird’s eye view as the pilots of 353 Japanese attack aircraft on the Sunday morning of December 7, 1941, when they launched a surprise attack.
On that day, 2,403 Americans died and 1,178 were wounded. The following day, the United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared December 7, 1941, “a day that will live in infamy”, and the United States declared war on Japan. On December 11, 1941, Japan’s Axis allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the United States. For the second time in the 20th century, our species engaged itself in a world wide conflagration.
Today, Honolulu is a favored Japanese holiday and destination wedding location. During my two visits to Pearl Harbor, many of my fellow visitors were welcome Japanese tourists. As we sat in the Pearl Harbor theater to view the ghastly film footage of the 1941 attack, I was aware I was possibly sitting next to the progeny of those who fought for the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces during World War II or maybe the children of survivors of the atomic bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 — the final slaughter that ended the years of slaughter.
During a visit to Oahu, it is important to take some time from the fun and sun of Waikiki to visit the four venues at Pearl Harbor, one of which is the Memorial to the battleship Arizona which exploded and sank during the Japanese attack. I would like to think World War II Memorial sites around the world help us remember to practice peace. However, there was recently a sadly believable false alarm in Hawaii, warning of incoming missiles from North Korea.
Pro Tip: In addition to visiting Pearl Harbor, here are the top things to do in Honolulu.
Recommended by Sage Scott, the Everyday Wanderer
A recently published survey stated that 20% of the youngest generation of American adults didn’t know about the Holocaust. And a contributing factor is the lack of personal connection most American Millennials have to the Holocaust. Being fortunate to spend half of my childhood living in Europe, my parents actively enriched our classroom education. Each Memorial Day, my family attended the ceremonies honoring the World War II heroes buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery. When my class read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, we took a field trip to the house where she and her family hid from the Nazis. But in a nation that experienced a single (albeit horrible) attack on its soil during World War II, I understand that the majority of American schoolkids don’t have access to the same experiences I had living abroad.
That’s why the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, is such an important place for all Americans to visit at least once. From the yellow stars of David pinned to the clothing of Jews early in Hitler’s rise to power to the unspeakable atrocities that took place as World War II progressed, the museum’s permanent exhibit does an outstanding job of pulling together, in one US-based location, many of the heartbreaking experiences I had at multiple destinations across Europe. And, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum puts names and faces behind the millions of innocents murdered at the hands of the Nazis. It begins with an ID card of a real person who experienced the Holocaust handed out to each person entering the exhibit, and it ends with the testimonies of Holocaust survivors.
In addition, the museum considers an American angle that is (understandably) not part of any World War II exhibit outside of the US. One is the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II when they were rounded up and held as prisoners in domestic concentration camps like Manzanar. The other focuses on what Americans knew about the genocide taking place in Europe during World War II, including when they knew it, and if they could have done more sooner. I’ve always wondered about this, but school text books focus on American actions overseas and not at home.
Recommended by Daisy Li from Beyond My Border
For Canadians, D-Day lectures are a constant in our high school history courses. As one of the most critical missions carried out by the Allies during World War II, D-Day’s success was vital to the defeat of the Axis powers. Men from twelve different nations carried out the surprise attack with courage, determination, and a bravery that contributed to the defeat of the Nazis. However, hundreds of thousands lost their lives during this battle. Among the death toll, half were American soldiers.
This is why the WWII Memorial in DC is an important site to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day.
The WWII Memorial was opened in 2004 on the National Mall in Washington, DC. It was constructed to honor the 16 million people that served in the US Armed Forces, the hundreds of thousands that lost their lives during the war, and the countless people that assisted the war effort from home. The memorial also holds annual events to observe the lost lives on D-Day and during World War II. For those wishing to experience the invasion of Normandy through a story-telling format or an education lecture, there is a calendar full of events for visitors.
Understanding the historical implications of World War II, the sacrifices made during those times, and where we, as a population, stand today, it is extremely important to not forget the steps that led to those tragedies. It is just as important to take all precaution so that history does not repeat itself.
Recommended by Cindy Ladage from Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl
The Yankee Air Museum has several pieces of history that relate to World War II. One piece is the C-47 airplane that you can see, or even book a ride on. Located in Belleville, Michigan, visitors can book rides on a B-25, the Yankee Warrior (a B-17), The Yankee Lady, or a WACO biplane!
In 2014 I got the wonderful experience of riding on the C-47, a military transport that was developed by the Douglas Aircraft Company, today known as McDonnell Douglas. The C-47 was one of the transport aircraft used by the Allies in World War II. They carried troops in military campaigns and ferried them back to the States. They carried paratroops behind enemy lines in the invasion of Sicily and again in the invasion of Normandy. During the Battle of the Bulge, the C-47 brought supplies to trapped troops in Bastogne. The C-47 was also an important aspect in the Pacific theater as well.
With over 250 active volunteers along with seven full-time and two part-time staff members you can enjoy two air shows a year. The Yankee Air Museum was formed in 1981 and it contains 47,000 square feet of permanent and changing exhibits. They bought a portion of the Ford Motor Company Willow Run Bomber Plant and they are raising funds to move into this historic building. The purpose of the Yankee Air Museum is to share both Michigan’s aviation history, but also to tell the story of the contribution of the automotive industry and how they contributed to the World War II War effort.
Frequently Asked Questions on the Anniversary of D-Day
Known officially as Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy, considered the beginning of the end of World War II, took place on June 6, 1944.
Twelve. Men from the United States were joined by members of the armed forces from Australia, Canada, Belgium, France, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), Greece, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and the United Kingdom.
Five beaches along the coast of Normandy, France, were invaded by the Allies on D-Day. They are:
- Utah – led by the US 4th Infantry Division
- Omaha – led by the US 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions
- Gold – led by the British 50th Division
- Juno – led by the Canadian 3rd Division
- Sword – led by the British 3rd Division
Although it was officially code named Operation Overlord, the massive invasion of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, is more widely known as D-Day. Folks often want to know what the “D” in D-Day stands for, and the answer is simple. The “D” doesn’t stand for anything in particular. Military strategists mark the day of a particular event with a “D,” using D-1 to indicate the day before and D+1 to indicate the day after.
The Battle of Normandy began on D-Day, June 6th, and ended a few months later in late August when all of Northern France had been liberated.
Approximately 209,000 Allied troops were killed, wounded, captured, or missing during the Battle of Normandy. That figure includes Americans, British, Canadians, and troops of other nationalities. German casualties can only be estimated, but are believed to have been around 200,000. Approximately 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives on D-Day, and thousands more were wounded or went missing.
Will You Be Commemorating the Anniversary of D-Day?
Where will you go? What will you do to honor those who fought to end the war and mourn its victims? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.