Friday, May 23, 2014

Memorial Day remembrance: Serene Crete cemetery pays homage to horrible WWII conflict

Approaching Crete at dusk, one sees hills of olive trees, and beautiful caves and beaches, with little hint
of the heavy casualties during the infamous Battle for Crete, eventually a German victory in 1941.



Cookie pays her respects to the fallen at Suda Bar War Cemetery.




















THOUSANDS DIED FOR FREEDOM ON THIS IDYLLIC MEDITERRANEAN ISLAND


STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

ON THIS  holiday Monday, honoring the fallen who died for peace, freedom and a better world, we travel to the Suda Bay War Cemetery in the Greek Isles.
As one enters the cemetery, a caretaker greets the car or hiker.
Beautiful inlaid stone crosses accent the solemn tone.
True, it is possible to visit Crete without including this moving  memorial. The island offers glamorous resorts and beaches. THE CAPITAL city Heraklion, is one of the Mediterranean's most fascinating and vibrant cities, replete with unusual museums, delightful gardens and eateries. But the cemetery is important. Strolling past geraniums red as Christmas berries, it's hard to imagine the violence, bloodshed and death that marked ferocious World War II battles for this key harbor.  
PAST SMALL, neat farmhouses, sunning chickens and sleeping dogs, one comes quietly to Suda Bay and the memorial.
Elegant stone walking paths flank rows and rows of crosses and white marble grave markers.  What stories the ghosts could tell, of 1940 when Italy invaded mainland Greece and Crete's excellent harbors became a contentious battleground.  The Germans wanted the strategic point, critical to their war effort. ALLIED BOMBERS were within range. After much carnage, dominance of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean ended in mid-1941 when the Germans launched a massive airborne attack. Days of desperate and heroic fighting followed, but Allied troops were forced to evacuate.  Thousands were taken prisoner or died.
Crete's key location made it a point of contention in WWII.
NOW,  REMAINS of the fallen sit sentinel at the northwest corner of Crete's Suda Bay. The meticulously groomed cemetery holds the graves of hundreds, mostly Commonwealth, who struggled valiantly to defend Crete against the German invasion in May and June of 1941. During two months of horrible battle, thousands perished.  More than 1,500 WWII servicemen are commemorated in the cemetery -- along with 19 World War I soldiers and some from other conflicts.
 CRETE's FAME goes back centuries before this memorial.  The island was central to the sophisticated Minoan Civilization, dating to 2700 B.C., and regarded as the earliest recorded civilization in Europe.
This imposing, largest Greek isle is also one of the largest in the Mediterranean, covering 8.303 kilometers and spanning 260 km, east to west.
A marker honors a fallen soldier, a doctor, above; below,
one of several historic churches remaining in Crete.
Its lovely, cave-lined coastline gives way to varied landscape, with many mountains.
In the U.S., our Memorial Day was born of the ashes of the Civil War. Originally called Decoration Day, it was officially proclaimed after the war that tore our country apart, on May 5, 1868. General John Alexander Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, with veterans of all military branches observed the day later that month, on May 30, 1868.
NEW YORK officially recognized the holiday in 1873 and by 1890 all the northern states joined. It took the losses of World War I for the southern states to recognize the day.  From then on, the holiday was expanded to honor the dead of all wars and U.S. military actions.

Luxury hotel accommodations are available
on Crete, here a Four Seasons beach.
FOR NEARLY a century, people called the holiday "Decoration Day" but it was not until 1967 that President Lyndon Banes Johnson signed legislation officially renaming the holiday "Memorial Day."

That atrocities and barbarism scarred this idyllic place called Crete seems incredible and unfitting.
Downey and Northridge, Calif., join San Diego
in celebrating Greek heritage during the next two weeks.
But the memorial's countless markers
tell the tragic tale.
HAPPILY, many Greek communities across the U.S. celebrate their heritage in the days before and after our U.S. Memorial Day. Moussaka, souvlaki, and gyros will soon be served in Downey, Calif., and other Los Angeles area towns. The Valley Greek Festival in Northridge, goes on the boards daily during Memorial Day weekend, 1-9 p.m.
COMING: Popular Ft. Lauderdale water taxis offer leisurely cruising along
the city's world famous waterways with commentary on celebrity homes.
THE 30th annual Downey Greek Festival is June 7-8, with Greek fare and vendors showing Greek music, crafts and more.  Here in San Diego, St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church stages its annual Greek Festival, June 13-15 with parking behind the San Diego Unified School District offices near Park Blvd. and El Cajon Blvd. All share heritage, culture, music, traditions, customs and food.
Sounds like "opa" time to me.




COMING UP: Fort Lauderdale and its famous water taxis offer romance, comfort, boats with a view, homes of the rich and famous, and a history lesson to boot. Find it soon at www.whereiscookie.com 
Ephesus intrigues with its ancient buildings, walkways and artwork.
Then off to ancient Ephesus where the Bible's Paul preached and the mother of Jesus lived out her life. We offer a modern approach to travel and the arts as we zip through time and explore the wonders of the centuries. Our adventure tips are laced with a sense of fun with "insider" pointers. Take time to explore, learn and live. Please visit us Wednesdays, weekends and as the muse invites, at: www.whereiscookie.com



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