formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

Be sure to read your weekly Liberty Gazette newspaper, free to Liberty area residents!

August 14, 2018 Ride the Thunder

The Liberty Gazette
August 14, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: When you were a kid, did you wonder if you could stand on a cloud? Perhaps jump from cloud to cloud, playing tag with your friends. It’s probably not an uncommon thing for kids to imagine, and the childhood fantasy is harmless. Once we understand the science of cloud formations, thunderstorms, and the lift that is part of their existence, we know the real thing isn’t so harmless.

Now this may seem unrelated, but hang with me.

Charles Peirce is ancestor on my dad’s mom’s side of the family. He lived in Philadelphia and published his extensive research of 57 years, called “A Meteorological Account of the Weather in Philadelphia, from January 1, 1790 to January 1, 1847.” I have a copy and though I’ve not read every single entry, I don’t think there’s any mention of “cloud suck.”

Cloud suck is a condition inside towering cumulus clouds when, due to the physics of heat exchange, columns of saturated air rise with such force they vacuum up whatever is right below the cloud. This phenomenon affects mostly paragliders and hang gliders that get too close to the cumulus base. They don’t have enough power to get away.

Seventy-four years after Uncle Charles finished his book, William Henry Rankin was born in nearby Pittsburgh. He would grow up to be Lieutenant Colonel Rankin, and he would discover firsthand what “cloud suck” is like.

Mike: Normally, jets can manage going around or over (but well above) thunderstorms. Unfortunately, on July 26, 1959 Rankin’s F-8 Crusader fighter jet had an engine failure right as he crossed above one of those cumulonimbus clouds. Even more unfortunately, he had no choice but to eject and parachute right into the violent storm.

Rankin was a Marine, a veteran of the Second World War and the Korean War. No doubt his experience taught him not to give up. The loud bang from the engine while at 47,000 feet didn’t stop him from doing what he needed to do next. When a fire warning light flashed he pulled the lever for auxiliary power. The fact that the lever broke off in his hand didn’t deter him. Neither did the fact that he had to eject into minus 58 degrees. In spite of the physical trauma to his body, he didn’t panic. He donned emergency oxygen. But the bad luck didn’t stop.

After flailing for five minutes in freezing air, his parachute not deployed, the low atmospheric pressure inside the storm triggered a barometric switch and his chute opened at 10,000 feet. Keep in mind, inside the storm he couldn’t see a thing. But he could feel the brutal roller coaster ride, the pelting hailstones and drowning rain.

Spewed out of the storm, Rankin landed in a forest forty minutes after he ejected. Of course, he wrote a book about it, and you may want to read it—The Man Who Rode the Thunder.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

August 7, 2018 Post-Harvey Rockport

The Liberty Gazette
August 7, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Gracing the cover of this quarter’s Wingtips magazine, a publication of the Texas Department of Transportation, Aviation Division, is an aerial view of the Aransas County airport in Rockport. You remember, the place where Harvey’s eye plucked out a town.

Many of the planes there belong to out-of-towners. Airport manager Mike Geer decided to ride out the storm in the terminal building to keep an eye on guests’ airplanes and secure them the best he could.

Two hours before the storm officially arrived in Rockport, the strength of pre-storm powerful winds collapsed the historic 1943 hangar. Official reports said winds reached 130 miles an hour. But Geer and those who huddled with him inside the terminal watched the airport’s weather reporting system display 143, with gusts of 160 miles an hour. They saw more proof as one of the walls flexed in and out.

Harvey’s violent attack on Rockport lasted all night. In the morning as they assessed the damage, Geer and his employees knew they’d have to get to work fast to ensure the airport could be used by first- responders arriving in helicopters. The fuel system had to be operational, so getting that running and verifying clean fuel became a top priority.

TxDOT is well equipped and has rehearsed the scenarios of getting on scene in catastrophe aftermath. A large contingent of highly trained specialists waited at a safe distance in San Antonio, and in the morning set out for Rockport in a nearly mile-long convoy.

The teams arrived to total devastation, in the town and at the airport. Hangars were blown apart, and airplanes were scattered about the field. The fuel truck was trapped in one of the collapsed hangars. Together, Geer, his staff, and the guys from TxDOT cleared debris from Runway 18-36, the north-south runway, so that airplanes could land, bringing more people to help with recovery.

In yet another victorious story of an airport saving lives, Geer said he’s proud his airport was used as a staging area to help his neighbors. At one time over 1,200 people were at the airport. They were emergency responders, utility workers, and others who came to the rescue. The entire community of Rockport was in good hands because of the airport.

Linda: In another article, Wingtips published the most recent list of grants awarded to Texas airports. They range from $400,000 given to Castroville Municipal Airport, up to $1,786,000 awarded to Eagle Lake Regional Airport. Castroville will install a new Jet-A fuel system. Eagle Lake will use their money for rehabilitation and repairs to runway, taxiway, lighting, and more. This will improve safety and increase economic benefits to all of Eagle Lake.

NOTICE: There’s a very limited time for rural airports to apply for free money. No match is required for this grant offering of one billion dollars, authorized by Congress. The City of Liberty needs to apply quickly. Deadlines are August 8 and October 31. Please ask city council to support application.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

July 31, 2018 The Flying Nun

The Liberty Gazette
July 31, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: I loved my first lunchbox. Sally Field as The Flying Nun was all over it. In the cafeteria, I would be absorbed by the square metal pail, dreaming of flying. It didn’t matter whether I was downing a PBJ, the best kids’ lunch ever, or the horrid pimento cheese sandwich Mom sometimes fixed in spite of our protests. How I wanted to fly.

Ms. Field’s acting did much to invite me to that different world. She encouraged my imagination and wonder at the possibilities. But she would not have had a part to play had it not been for Marie Teresa Rios Versace, an Irish-Puerto Rican-American born in Brooklyn in 1917.

“Tere,” as her friends called her, met the dashing “Mr. Right,” Humbert Roque Versace, a West Point grad who eventually made Colonel. She became an army wife and bore five children.

Tere had been a prolific writer since her youth. As an adult, she was in high demand to write for publications around the world, including the Armed Forces’ Stars & Stripes. She taught creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh, and at some point in all the moves army families make, she was crowned “Wisconsin Writer of the Year.”

During the Second World War, the strong, patriotic Catholic supported the troops, volunteering as a truck and bus driver for the army. And it didn’t stop there. She learned to fly and joined the Civil Air Patrol, serving her country as a volunteer pilot.

Tere’s eldest son, the incredibly handsome Humbert Roque (Jr.), or “Rocky,” as they called him, followed in his father’s footsteps to West Point. He went to Korea as an M-48 tank platoon leader and then volunteered for duty in Vietnam. When Captain Versace began his second tour in Vietnam, his post-service vision was to go to seminary, become a priest and return to Vietnam as a missionary. Vietnamese orphans had touched his heart and he wanted to come back to serve them.

In the fall of 1965, less than two weeks before he was to come home, Captain Versace was ambushed, taken deep into the jungle, tortured for two years, then executed. Fellow prisoners last heard his voice singing “God Bless America.” His remains have never been found.

The Colonel and Mrs. Versace didn’t know right away their son had been killed. As Tere was finishing her third book, The Fifteenth Pelican, she penned the dedication, “FOR THE ROCK and the children and sugar people of NamCan.”

The Fifteenth Pelican was Tere’s last book. It was the story that was the basis for the TV show, The Flying Nun.

Tere had been presented with a Special Forces patch and unit membership certificate. When she passed away in 1999, representatives of the Special Operations Command from Fort Bragg were present. Her ashes are buried with her husband at Arlington National Cemetery.

My lunchbox was something to be proud of. More than either Sally Field or I knew.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

July 24, 2018 Vintage

The Liberty Gazette
July 24, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: A couple years ago my mom and I perused a spacious antique store in the Midwest, just for the fun of it. Oddities of bygone days can kick up laughter, spark intrigue, and sometimes leave us in awe. Old familiars can trigger memories, like old sayings from our parents: “Don’t run with a stick, you’ll poke your eye out,” or “Don’t stretch your face like that, it will stay that way.” And remember “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt”? That one can apply to perusing these yesteryear-filled malls, too. Let’s face it. These days when you enter an antique shop, you’re just as likely to find not-yet-antiques that only qualify as vintage.

I say that to try to soften the blow to my ego when I enter a musty-smelling former warehouse or cottage and find toys and games just like the ones I used to have. C’mon! I’m not that old, yet!

As Mom and I strolled I was astonished to find a metal dollhouse exactly like the one we had as kids. Maybe it was ours. It was actually half a dollhouse, open so you could play with little people and furniture inside the rooms. Today, it wouldn’t pass any safety tests. At the top of the chimney, the metal was folded inward. I know this well because when I was three I dropped a white plastic doll chair, about the size my thumb at the time, into the chimney. While fishing it out, my right thumb tangled with the sharp edges of the folded-over metal. Metal doesn’t give, so the dollhouse won, and Mom had a screaming child to console and blood all over the place. At least it was easy to wipe off.

I stood there and stared at that dollhouse with mixed feelings. My sisters and I had good times playing…but then, that vicious chimney. The scar is still visible, yet playtime memories are happy.

There was plenty more to see in the ego-killing vintage shop. Spinning tops, toy cars, and model airplanes. Yay for model airplanes!

Another hot item in vintage collections is school lunchboxes. Interestingly, this is another place we can find a satisfying assortment of aviation-themed items. Not just Space Explorer, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Did you know there was a lunchbox of airlines? Gracing the front was a photo of a National Airlines B727, its crew in the foreground. Along the sides are logos of United, American, Lufthansa, and others. There was also a lunch pail covered with characters that look like hot dogs, and an airplane above towing a banner that read, “Meat Parade.” Weird.

Rosie the Riveter and Snoopy and the Red Baron made the lunch tote cut, too. But my favorite, honoring the one who first sparked my desire to fly, was The Flying Nun. While Sally Field’s acting led me to imagine myself flying, this was made possible by the story written by an amazing woman. I can’t wait to tell you about her next week.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

July 17, 2018 Naco-Naco

The Liberty Gazette
July 17, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Let’s take a trip down to the border, and back in time.

When Mexico’s civil war ended in 1920, several revolutions followed. One of the guys most celebrated for putting down some of those revolutions was Jose Gonzalo Escobar. Trouble was, he was planning his own. But don’t think the Mexican government didn’t suspect it. They never did trust that scoundrel. No matter that he’d had a significant role in defeating Pancho Villa. They knew he wanted to oust President Emilio Portes Gil. So the Mexican government asked the U.S. government to seal off the border from trade to rebels and bought materials and supplies to beef up their side, ready for Escobar’s attacks.

Among the supplies were combat aircraft and U.S. veteran pilots to fly them. The federales attacked by air first, bombing a couple of rebel locations. This prompted Escobar to holler across the border for help from like-minded souls. Actually, they didn’t have to be so like-minded as much as just want to do the job. There were, in those days, a few “revolution-hoppers,” men who made it their profession to join revolutions…at $1,000 a week.

Escobar’s army wasn’t as well equipped as the government’s, but he scraped along as best and for as long as he could. However, when one rebels with a lesser budget, one likely has troops of lesser commitment. Such was the case for Escobar.

An Irishman named Patrick Murphy offered his services. He had been working in the U.S. as a crop duster, which made his flying skills for this sort of job pretty sharp. So they thought.

His good buddy Jon Gorre also got a job. Only his employer happened to be on the other side – the Mexican government. The story goes that the two would meet at a bar each night, compare their statistics on bomb dropping for the day, and then agree to who got to go next. Because they were friends, they politely took turns. They even bought their bombs from the same guy. Turns out, Murphy could handle the flying part okay, but maybe not navigation.

Linda: In Sonora, Mexico is a town named Naco. Across the border in Arizona is an unincorporated village also named Naco. There’s less than a mile between them. Even in the lumbering Stearman, which was used by both sides, the two Nacos are only about 24 seconds’ flight time apart.

On April 2, 1929, Murphy either miscalculated his route or misjudged the wind, if there was any. He hit a mercantile, a pharmacy, and the post office in Naco, Arizona. His bombs left craters in the streets and one blew up a Dodge touring car owned by a Mexican army officer who had left it there for safekeeping.

Since he’d been hired by the Mexican rebels, this made his attacks the first aerial bombardment of the contiguous United States by a foreign power.

He certainly had no “luck o’ the Irish,” but perhaps it was Murphy’s Law.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

July 10, 2018 Dubrovnik

The Liberty Gazette
July 10, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Last year we received a full refund from everyone we had paid for our Croatia vacation when Hurricane Harvey came to maul South Texas. Air France, Airbnb, even the ferry services and the Dubrovnik Symphony were sympathetic and helpful. Whenever you’re ready, we look forward to welcoming you, they all said.

I’d been so excited about the Dubrovnik Symphony that I vowed our future trip would be planned around it. And so it was.

When we decided to take the trip in May, the first place we consulted was the Dubrovnik Symphony calendar. Often, they perform in the atrium of Rector’s Palace, an intimate setting with, we’re told, amazing sound. But on Friday, May 11, the musicians would gather at the Museum of Modern Art and offer their beautiful sound in the open air patio. This would be youth night, where four outstanding high school students would perform solo pieces, with the symphony backing them up. We had second-row seats.

With a gentle, fatherly kind of smile, Maestro Noam Zur, an Israeli, stretched out his arms to welcome each of the teens in turn up to the front to play their piece. I thought of our Fine Arts Society of Liberty Texas and the scholarships we would soon be sending out. These Croatian kids, like the ones here in our area, are incredibly talented and I fell in love with the city and their symphony as I knew I would.

My sister, too, fell in love with Dubrovnik when she visited 30-some years ago, when the country was part of Yugoslavia. She told us about the old wall and the sheer beauty of the city. She was right.

Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Adriatic, is a medieval city with a medieval infrastructure and street network. Fortresses, canons, and 13-foot-wide limestone walls have protected citizens inside since the 12th century. The walls have never been breached by an enemy and were about all that was left standing after the 1667 earthquake. We climbed the steps 80 feet to the top to join others from around the world on a leisurely 1.2 mile walk above the city

What a beautiful view! Red roofs on ancient stone architecture in varied shades of white, all built at different times after the earthquake, reflect the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. Massive monasteries and elaborate cathedrals attract. Shops and restaurants flank the wide main street of polished stone and are tucked into romantic, narrow alleyways. The gardens here would make any master gardener jealous. And the steps—oh, the steps! Dubrovnik is built on steps in an intricate and complex system of forts, bastions, casemates, and towers. We’re not TV-watchers, but they say a show called Game of Thrones is or was filmed here.

Lovrijenac Fortress, just outside the city walls, rises from a 121-foot-high cliff. Adriatic waves rippled in the harbor. Kayaks and sailboats dotted the seascape for a postcard view at any angle. Croatia has captured my heart.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

July 3, 2018 Zadar's Sea Organ

The Liberty Gazette
July 3, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: One of the Croatian cities high on my list for a visit was Zadar, and for only one reason: a musical, engineering, architectural wonder.

After the Cold War and Yugoslavia’s meltdown and break-up into seven countries, city leaders in Zadar worked to rebuild. They wanted to make their city a place that would draw travelers; something for the tourists, but not your typical tourist trap.

Nikola Bašić hit the jackpot when he proposed his idea: a sea organ. His project won the European Prize for Urban Public Space as the best among hundreds of candidate projects from across Europe.

On the western end of Zadar’s peninsula for about 230 feet of shoreline, broad marble steps rise from the Adriatic Sea. Under the surface of the lower steps are 35 pipes of varying length, diameter, and tilt. Water and air flow in and funnel into resonant chambers. From the pressure, air is pushed out through channels on the upper steps. The labiums (whistles) on the pipes play seven chords of five tones, creating organ-like sounds, random, yet harmonic. Along the vertical part of the steps are perforations, square holes about the size of your hand. The sea’s pressure pushes the air through these holes, releasing sound. From the ever-changing sea notes, the song is never the duplicated.

Nikola had help from a sea hydraulics consultant and a few other experts. The pipes were made by Goran Ježina from a famous organ art workshop called Murter. Heferer is a Croatian company which has been making organs since the mid-17th century. They made the 35 whistles for every pipe. The unique instrument was tuned by Professor Ivica Stamać. This small ensemble built a marvelous attraction that protects the shore while luring millions of locals and globetrotters alike for a peaceful experience.
From a coastline devastated by war to architectural sound art, this extraordinary instrument croons visitors; each note of the on-going symphony born of chance by wind and waves.

Sunset is the most popular time to sit on a step and listen to the music of the sea, the pink and orange sky bowing before us from across the water. Sunrise is less dramatic only because it’s not right across the water, its way back behind the city. But the organ shore is hardly populated at that hour, which is a plus.


Mike: The sun sank low, and lapping waves tickled the steps in splashes to accompany the organ. Wake from passing boats kissed the shore in crescendo.

Memories from a recent trip to another place recovering from war washed through my mind. The song of the Sea Organ fits well with video I took when we gently drifted down the Tonle Sap in Cambodia, rocked by swells and enchanted by a similar sunset.

Like a mother rocking her babe, singing softly, the waves and the Sea Organ symbolize hope for tomorrow in a land that has known so much pain.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com



June 26, 2018 To Unlock Zagreb

The Liberty Gazette
June 26, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The ten-hour flight from Houston to Munich in a United Airlines Boeing 767 was relatively comfortable. However, I really prefer the front seat to anything in the back. Stuck as passengers, we passed the time through changes in daylight by reading, napping, and wandering about the cabin. Long flights offer opportunities to chat with flight attendants in the aft galley when we get up to stretch. But I’d still rather be at the controls of this aluminum tube.

After an hour in Munich, we boarded a Q-400, a twin-engine turbo-prop made by the DeHavilland aircraft company of Canada. They used to call this airplane a “Dash-8,” dash being how one would pronounce the three-letter identifier of the company, “DHC.” They numbered their aircraft models, this one being an 8. Years later, DeHavilland redesigned the airplane. They replaced the propellers with ones that have more blades, turn slower, and make less noise. Emphasizing the quietness, the airplane was re-named Q-400 (Q for quiet, 400 being the series number).

Aboard Croatian Airlines’ hushed Q-400, we flew from Munich to the capital of Croatia, Zagreb. This is one of very few cities in the world I would return to (there’s still so much I haven’t seen). Zagreb is fascinating, as is all of Croatia and the other countries that came out of the former Yugoslavia.

In lovely Zagreb we took advantage of two walking tours, one of general history and one of military history. We had our first escape room experience too. It was an outdoor version more like a treasure hunt, learning local folklore and culture.

In the game, “Unlock Zagreb,” we wandered the streets of the old town, solving riddles and puzzles to discover tales of the city. Our mission: Save Duchess Ruzica. We promised not to divulge secrets of their super fun game, so we’ll just share what’s on their website: Bloody Bridge was named after the fierce battles fought between two neighboring settlements of centuries past, the diocesan Kaptol, and the free royal settlement of Gradec. The bridge (which is no longer there) is also linked to the legend of Duchess Ruzica Gising and the Knight Pavo Slavinic.

Daring as it was, we were appointed to undergo six tests of chivalry to show whether we “have what it takes to be a knight.” Good thing I had Mike with me.

The evil Duke Grdun wanted beautiful Ruzica for himself, and the game master warned, Grdun was on his way, so we must be quick! (The game was only one hour long.)

Turns out, we’re not that good at games with clues, so the very gracious game master left her office in the historic building that was once a brothel to help us figure it out. What a great time we had exploring Zagreb! I wish I could tell you the whole story, but you’ll have to board that 767 and the Q-400 and meet up with Sonya at Enigmarium in Zagreb to find out who won Ruzic's hand in marriage.

I’d love to go back there some day.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

June 19, 2018 Who's Boss?

The Liberty Gazette
June 19, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
  
Linda: Carlos was hurrying through his sandwich so he could make his reserved time slot to fly a glider at the Soaring Club of Houston. He asked about our latest trip to Eastern Europe—which countries we visited, how we liked it, etc. I had noticed his t-shirt when he first walked in the clubhouse. I wondered if he knew much about the person whose name he sported: clothing designer, Hugo Boss. So I responded, “Interesting that you’re wearing that shirt. It’s relevant to our trip.”

Having taken the private military history tour on the island of Vis, off the Adriatic coast of Croatia, I knew who Hugo Boss was. So I told Carlos about how we crept inside the dark tunnels used by the Yugoslav People’s Army. Amid the billions of mosquito-looking bugs that didn’t bite but were thick as grease in the air, and the bats chasing them for a feast; amid the dank underground maze were remnants of the Cold War. A pair of shoes, left just as they were when Yugoslavia collapsed and everyone abandoned the nuclear hide-out. Also left, still resting on a hanger in an officer’s quarters, is a molding army uniform jacket.

Nano, our guide, pointed his flashlight toward the uniform and quizzed us. “What do you think that is? Doesn’t it look like a Nazi uniform?”

It did.

“But it’s not. It’s the uniform of the Yugoslavian army. Made by Hugo Boss. He made the Nazi uniforms too, so they look really similar.”

Carlos was immediately skeptical of my information and retrieved his phone from his pocket for quick research. “Yep. You’re right. Hugo Boss, designer of the Nazi military uniforms.” While he didn’t tell me his thoughts at that moment, his expression seemed to convey a bit of discomfort at the realization of the history represented on his shirt.

Mike: Hugo joined the Nazi party in 1931. After WWII he was stripped of his voting rights and could not own or operate a business in Germany. Years later, that decision was commuted when officials believed he was just a follower rather than an activist and beneficiary. But that probably meant little to Hugo, who had died in 1948. The Boss company ownership was passed to Hugo’s son-in-law and later taken over by grandsons who commissioned a study into the company’s past.

In 2010 the company issued a statement of regret and apologized for participating in the production of military uniforms for the Schutzstaffel, Hitler’s army of killers. But they also argued that their grandfather was not the designer. Rather, his company was one of fifteen thousand small manufacturers supplying the German army, possibly by force or threat.

Regardless who designed it, the tattered glob of fabric hanging in the dingy bunker on the island of Vis, a hundred and eighty feet below ground, does look similar to a Nazi uniform coat.

It is not for us to say what was in Hugo Boss’s heart and mind, but it’s a reminder to consider how we spend our money.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com

June 12, 2018 Vis, an Important Island

The Liberty Gazette
June 12, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: “Whoever controls the island of Vis controls the Adriatic,” explained Nano, our private military tour guide.

My eyes were still adjusting to the bright sun as we emerged from a tunnel into a rubble-strewn area that overlooked the gently rolling sea. I was careful not to trip on the corroded circular metal pad bolted to the cement floor and its rusting metal sleeve that protruded upward, the remains of a mount for heavy artillery. I’d seen similar bunkers at Pointe du Hoc near Omaha Beach in Normandy. But those didn’t require navigation through hundreds of yards of dank-smelling tunnels.

“This island never was occupied by Germany like the rest of Yugoslavia,” Nano pointed out. “Italy held it, but gave it up.”

Linda: The remains of over thirty separate military installations are still on the island. Nano, a native of Vis, drove his Land Rover along rugged roads to show us bunkers, barracks, and a sunset from the second highest point on the island. The highest point is still military-occupied. Some centuries-old ruins are crumbling. Others, built during WWII and the Cold War, we explored by flashlight. We dodged bats and bugs through the dungeon-like maze.

Italy abandoned the island when they surrendered in September, 1943. This allowed the Yugoslav Partisan resistance to move their headquarters here, where they added a hospital and an airstrip.

 Mike: In 1944, the RAF stationed two squadrons of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters at the newly-built air base. The United States Army Air Force also placed a group of mechanics on the island to repair war-damaged bombers. The hospital was busy treating wounded crew members.

“The air base here was one of the most important in the Adriatic. When bombers, damaged while attacking German targets in the Balkans, couldn’t make it back home to Italy, they came here.” Nano slowed his vehicle to show us a marker. The inscription reads: "In Proud Memory of the Men of the Royal Air Force who lost their lives while operating over Yugoslavia 1944 through 1945," except someone has scratched out “Yugoslavia” and replaced it with “Croatia,” a sign of continued internal struggle.

One day in 1944, thirty-seven B-24 Liberators either landed at or crashed on the short runway. To clear the overtaxed field for more landings, crashed airplanes were chopped up with axes. Several aircraft crews bailed out nearby or had to ditch in the blue waters surrounding the island.

As Germany retreated farther north in 1945, the mechanics and squadrons of fighters were moved to an airfield in Zadar on the Yugoslav coast. At the end of the war, the island air base was closed and the land returned to use as vineyards. But buildings still have signs that say “Aerodrome,” and old pilots have returned to remember friends both saved and lost.

At war’s end, 218 aircraft were saved and over 1,000 airmen owe their lives to the little airfield and its hospital in the middle of the Adriatic.

ElyAirLines.blogspot.com