Veterans of the D-Day invasion, their family members and the residents of Normandy, France are deeply split over a proposed $90 million tourist attraction retelling the story of the D-Day landings. The community is split over whether it will be seen as a reverent battlefield monument or an overly-commercial theme park that’s inappropriate for commemorating one of the bloodiest turning points of World War II.
The proposed attraction would be called the Hommage aux Héros or “Tribute to the Heroes.” If approved, the project would be built on a 75 acre site a short distance from the beaches where U.S., British and Canadian troops landed on June 6, 1944 to liberate Normandy, France from Nazi German occupation.
Built into the landscape of this project would be a series of screens. Visitors would be sat in a 1,000-seat theater that is moved along a 400-meter track with several screens. On each screen will be an audiovisual presentation accompanied by live actors, presenting different historical vignettes from the lead-up to the D-Day invasion to the liberation of Paris.
On their website, the project’s proponents say the project will handle the subject matter “with exactitude, sensitivity and precision; with a scrupulous concern for historical reality and an affirmed commitment to current historiography.”
The Guardian reported the project’s proponents want the project to appeal to a younger audience. This comes as the number of visitors to Normandy’s D-Day memorial sites has fallen in recent years as the number of veterans that fought in World War II dwindles.
According to the National D-Day Memorial, more than 150,000 allied service members participated in the landing operations. The allied forces suffered nearly 10,000 casualties in the landing operations, including more than 4,000 who were killed.
More than 425,000 allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing as part of the larger fight for Normandy, which included airborne paratrooper operations and continued throughout the summer months of 1944. The allies alone suffered 226,386 casualties throughout the Battle for Normandy.
Former French Defense Minister Hervé Morin, who said the project will “continue to uphold its values of humanism, tolerance and peace, with the desire to keep alive the sacrifices and acts of bravery that marked these great pages of history.”
Morin said the project “will also promote the attractiveness of our region” and will work in collaboration with other tourism sites in the area “whose exemplary work I once again salute.”
The project’s backers hope it will be open in 2025 and bring in about 600,000 guests per year, with expectations to sell tickets at about $28 a head.
The Guardian reported some locals and veterans’ family members have begun to deride the proposed project “D-day Land” and criticized its profit motives. Régis Lefebvre, a proponent of the project defended the idea against such characterizations.
“It’s not a theme park and we never called it D-Day Land. That’s the name our opponents used,” Lefebvre said. “As for making money, who seriously sets up a business to lose money? In England you understand that.”
Mark Worthington, the curator of a museum of a local museum recognizing the allied glider troops led by Maj. John Howard who landed on D-Day, told the Guardian that many people he had spoken with about the new project “are not very enthusiastic and some are dead against it.”
Worthington said, “I suppose we have to see how it is done and hope it is not distasteful.”
Penny Howard Bates, who is Maj. Howard’s daughter, told the Guardian she feels the project is in poor taste.
“To seek to exploit this momentous event in history along with all the tragedy and suffering – not least by the French themselves – would be considered an outrage by those who seek to honour relatives who died to liberate France and then Europe from the Nazis,” Bates said.
Serge Denoncourt, a Quebec-based theater actor and director who has directed performances of Cirque du Soleil is attached to this new World War II project. A Stéphane Roy another theater professional is also involved.
Even D-Day veterans aren’t all sold on the project.
There have been a couple of meetings for Normandy locals to make public comments about the attraction. At a public meeting held on Tuesday, Ouest France reported D-Day veteran Charles Norman Shay came to speak in favor of the proposal.
Fellow D-Day veteran Léon Gautier was also at Tuesday’s meeting and was more ambivalent about the proposed project. Gautier was part of a French unit known as the Keiffer Commandos, who took part in landing operations on Sword Beach with British forces. Gautier attended the meeting alongside the eldest son of André Bagot, who was one of the leaders of the Free French commando unit.