formerly "The View From Up Here"

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

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

December 31, 2013 Plages Sombres - Known but to God

The Liberty Gazette
December 31, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely


Mike: I stand in quiet survey of the scene, cold water crashing on the shore before me. A faint murmur accents the air, its sound emerging quickly into a crackling roar. In seconds a French Mirage fighter jet dressed in camouflage screams past me, a hundred feet above the churning English Channel. The pilot banks hard north and disappears in the distance. Silence returns.

Turning from the overlook a lush green carpet of grass spotted by immaculately maintained trees unfolds behind me. There, in perfect symmetry, ten thousand white marble crosses declare the war is over. Winter may be the time to visit this place as there are neither crowds nor chaos to compete with contemplation except for an occasional military jet flying by to pay respects to the soldiers buried here.

I learned of the D-Day invasion in school, history books, and movies, but standing here in the American Military Cemetery and Memorial at Normandy, the realization sinks much deeper. Touching the sand of Omaha Beach one can know of yet not quite fathom the terror and dedication those who took part in this colossal undertaking must have felt. I step with humble reverence around the headstones, reading names; many Known But to God. More than 1,500 names of sons who were never recovered or identified are etched in a circular stone wall. If they could, they’d speak of family, of going home.

During my flying career I have been afforded some grand opportunities. For the first two weeks of December my job required a return to Paris, France. I wasn’t interested in spending my free time in Paris so one weekend I rented a car, took on the challenge of Paris traffic circles and got the heck out of Dodge.

June 6th, 2014 will mark 70 years since these brave souls and others spilled their blood so that we might remain free. The price paid during the D-Day campaign was 50,000 Allied lives, with another 150,000 wounded.

As I drive around Normandy it is difficult to imagine war ever touching this landscape of low rolling terrain graced with long rock walls and hedgerows, quaint farms, cottages and stone chapels. Yet, if I looked, I’d see the evidence, a rusting cannon sitting on its side at a field’s edge, ruins of buildings left for the memory. Museums and historical markers populate the villages.

At Pointe Du Hoc is a moonscape of massive craters from bombs dropped to secure the planned offensive, shattering some of the fortifications that once overlooked both Omaha and Utah beaches. Here the cold winter wind seems to cut into me as the rain begins to fall while I enter preserved bunkers, thinking hard on the fate of those once inside them. Look, out on the beaches, where U.S. Army Rangers climbed these 100-foot cliffs taking this ground in the early morning hours of the invasion. Their losses were heavy as they stood off several counter-attacks until relief came the next day.

Near the memorial two flagpoles champion United States flags hung at half-mast. At sunset life in the cemetery pauses, the flags are lowered and all who are breathing salute or place their hand over their heart for the playing of Taps. I behold what is about me and I whisper "Thank you."

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