a solemn reminder

Time and tide wait for no man.
Geoffrey Chaucer


(historic marker / Savannah, GA / Julie Cook / 2019)

Perhaps this is an odd place for an early morning stroll but Colonial Cemetary in
Savannah is both a peaceful and serene place to wander…
Not only are there tabby lined paths that weave throughout this rather massive burial
place, but there are also beautifully majestic ancient oaks veiled in the otherworldly
ethereal Spanish moss which cast dancing shadows across the landscape of an otherwise eerily
still and silent place …
All of which adds to the allure of this surreal and tranquil place.
It is a place steeped in centuries-old history.


(tabby path / Savannah, GA / Julie Cook / 2019)

The stories and lives of the known as well as the unknown.
Folks who had come from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Poland, Germany…
Most of who had come pre-Revolutionary War and who have since each found a resting
place in this protected piece of land, in a country they would each come to call home.

A Declaration of Independence bears many of their names just as do state counties.
State colleges have named buildings in their honor as we remember both the heroic and the notorious.


(historic marker / Savannah, GA / Julie Cook / 2019)


(historic marker / Savannah, GA / Julie Cook / 2019)


(historic marker / Savannah, GA / Julie Cook / 2019)

From Today in Georgia History:
August 2, 1776- Statewide
Georgia joined The United States on August 2, 1776, the same day that Button Gwinnett,
Lyman Hall, and George Walton signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.

The declaration was approved on July 4, but signed by only one man that day, John Hancock.
Fifty other delegates to the 2nd Continental Congress signed on August 2.
Later that year, five more brought the total to 56.

Eight of the signers, including Gwinnett, were foreign-born.
One was Roman Catholic, a handful were deists and the rest were Protestants.
They all went on to lives of public service in the republic they founded:
there were two future presidents, three vice presidents, two Supreme Court justices,
and many congressmen, diplomats, governors, and judges among them.

In 1818, 14 years after Georgia’s last signer died, Georgia named counties in their honor.
Charles Carroll of Maryland, the last of all the signers left, died in 1832 at the age of 95,
but their revolutionary idea of a self-governing free people lives on.

The experiment they began remains unfinished, as it was on August 2, 1776,
Today in Georgia History.


(Colonial Cemtetary / Savannah, GA / Julie Cook / 2019)

The cemetery, no matter how many times I find myself wandering, affords me new discoveries
hidden amongst the trees and mostly ignored by the abundant squirrels who call this
park-like cemetery home.

Numerous tiny graves now protect the innocent… some who are named, some who are not.
Eternally protecting the mortal remains of those who were born only to quickly pass away—
as they were born during a time when both birth and death walked hand in hand


(Colonial Cemtetary / Savannah, GA / Julie Cook / 2019)


(Colonial Cemtetary / Savannah, GA / Julie Cook / 2019)

Some grave markers are elaborate—hand carvings which are each works of art
while others remain plain and simple.
Some markers offer kind and poetic words while others have lost all legibility
to the passing of time.
Names, dates, and lives seemingly washed away from both time and the elements.

It is said that despite the iron fence that now encloses the cemetery,
the buried actually extend yards beyond, extending outward into the city they
called home.
The city paved and built over many graves long before a permanent fence
was erected.

Even the office of the Archdiocese of Savannah is housed in an old colonial building
that undoubtedly was built upon the graves of the unknown as recording details of
those buried was not always a priority.

Yellow fever victims are in a mass grave in a far corner of the cemetery while
unknown Confederate and Union soldiers now spend eternity side by side.

It is said that this is one of the most haunted places in the city…
but yet this city boasts many an otherworldly spook and specter.

I like to learn of the lives who have all gone before me.
Those who lived in a time much different from my own and the
similarities of lives lived are more alike than different.

For we all live, love, hurt, suffer, laugh and cry…and each eventually die.
Not so much different as we are still very much alike.


(Colonial Cemtetary / Savannah, GA / Julie Cook / 2019)


(Colonial Cemtetary / Savannah, GA / Julie Cook / 2019)


(Colonial Cemtetary / Savannah, GA / Julie Cook / 2019)


(Colonial Cemtetary / Savannah, GA / Julie Cook / 2019)

And the dust returns to the earth as it was,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 ESV

‘unthankful day’???

Ingratitude is always a kind of weakness. I have never known men of ability to be ungrateful.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Ungratefulness is worse than a cancer; it eats away at your soul;
blinding your heart and eyes to the beauty and miracles that are
all around us each day in our lives.

Geraldine Vermaak


(a storefront window seen in Savannah, Ga / Julie Cook / 2019)

Well, I certainly hope everyone had a warm, happy and thanks-filled Thanksgiving!

Whether yours was small and quiet or large and raucous, I hope you had
some time for a bit of private and or even vocal reflection…
being able to reflect upon what it was and is that you have in your life to be
thankful for and over.

I made mention, in one of my posts prior to my brief Thanksgiving hiatus, that
I was concerned about our society’s obsessive frenzy over of all things black,
cyber and local shopping for Christmas, as we hurridly hop from Halloween to Christmas
flippantly glossing over Thanksgiving…

That in our zest and zeal, for all things of consumerism and materialism,
we forget the importance that first and foremost, there must always be gratitude.

Like many other families and individuals, our little crew took the show on the road
this Thanksgiving.
We ventured to Georgia’s first city…the city of her inception, Savannah.

There’s a bit of personal history there and I’ll chat about that another day…
but for today, my focus is on that of being thankful.

Thursday, before we were to sit down and break bread over our own Thanksgiving dinner,
we enjoyed a leisurely stroll throughout this Southern historic city.
As we made our way through the city’s shopping district, we noted that there were
actually, a few businesses open, while the majority were closed for the observation of Thanksgiving.

As I would expect nothing less.
Families and individuals being able to take a day for a national observation of
gratitude.

I stopped in front of a local business that had posted a bit of a diatribe on their
storefront window extolling the importance of an “Unthanksgivng Day” as they
opted to stand with the indigenous people.
Decolonize this place they said??

Huh?

First I thought to myself, “here you are closed, on a national day of Thanksgiving so
perhaps you should have actually been open to show your true discontent…
or is that malcontent?
But instead, you were closed, most likely indulging in the day…”

And then I pondered the notion of decolonization…as in are we all to vacate this
Nation of ours, heading back to whatever land was that of our ancestors,
telling the last one out to leave a single light on.

The following day, I caught a news story in the same vein of thinking.
It was a story about how the disgruntled, or is that disgraced,
former football QB Colin Kaepernick, who had attended an
“Unthanksgiving Day” on Alcatraz Island, of all places, vocalized his endorsement for
an Indigenous People’s day while espousing the need to do away
with Thanksgiving.

Sigh.

Again, I thought, ‘here is a very blessed young American man who has had so very
much in his life to be thankful over and for, yet he’s promoting the notion of
being Unthankful…”

It makes no sense to me.

Am I the only one who sees the egregious irony in someone having been adopted
as a baby and in turn, afforded so very much love and opportunities, opportunities
found in a great land of freedom and just that, opportunity, and yet here he is touting
a day of Unthanksgiving?
Is not this unthanksgivng just another word for ingratitude?
As in unthankful?
As in ungrateful.

Oh, I get it.
I get what this is all about.
I get the gist behind all of this being that our Native American populations have grievously
suffered over the centuries at the hands of the white European’s first arrival and then
the ensuing conquest of the new land.

I have often said we owe a great deal to our native Americas past and present,
but try as we like, we cannot rewrite our history.
We can’t do away with Columbus Day despite his treatment of the locals upon landing…
because he also opened a great door.

We can’t discredit that.

We can’t decolonize a nation or toss out Thanksgiving because Pilgrims
have gotten more attention than their local native hosts.

That is what much of this millennial disgruntlement seems to be about…
a desire to rewrite an often less than stellar history.

But here’s the thing—you can’t rewrite your history…it is what it is.

It is there for better or for worse, in hopes that you will learn from it
not erase it just because you don’t like it.
It will not disappear no matter how hard you try to turn it into
something it never was.

That you will learn from what was
Grow from what was.
That you do not repeat the negative of what was.
But rather that you may find that which must be celebrated and
in turn, offer thanks…

Do not grouse.
Do not complain.
Do not lament.
Do not have a temper tantrum over that which you do not fully grasp
understand or truly know…
And do not whine over that which you cannot change.

But rather learn, grow and rejoice.

Be grateful.

Do not ask what is there to be grateful for…
the list is endless.

Be thankful for the others, who went before you, offered their lives
so you could live in a place that allows you to grouse, to complain
to have temper tantrums while you opt to hashtag everything that
comes across your phone.

Find your gratitude not your negativity.

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more
people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 4:15

in pursuit

“Among the strange things of this world,
nothing seems more strange than that men pursuing happiness should knowingly quit the right
and take a wrong road, and frequently do what their judgments neither approve nor prefer.”

John Jay


(some of norht Georgia’s finest…Arkansas Blacks and Winesaps / Julie Cook / 2019)

The rains had departed, the clouds were racing off, chasing the latest weather front,
and now the air was actually, delightfully, a bit chilled.

This was to be a short-lived moment as the weather folks were telling us that the
temperatures would be rising this week while the rains would be returning by Tuesday with a vengeance.
Bad weather in the South, no matter what the time of year, is something to be wary of…

So if we wanted to seek out a single colored leaf, now was our moment.

And thus we got into our vehicle Sunday morning and decided to point the truck following
the compass arrow pointing north…or so said the dashboard readings…north.

It’s just about a 2-hour drive from the house to reach North Georgia’s apple capital–
Elijay and her fellow communities of Blue Ridge, Cherry Log, etc…

We almost thought we’d move up this way about a year ago…
but that’s another story for another day.

As the truck’s compass continued pointing north, north-east, we drove on, passing
various polestars pointing towards various destinations…

I must confess, I’ve never been to, let alone seen, Rock City.
Have you?

It was always my understanding, since I was a little girl back in the day,
that farmers were paid to paint the famous “See Rock City” on the sides or roofs
of their barns but I can’t say for certain…
However I always did want a Rock City birdhouse…but I digress

Finally, just before noon, we found the ‘apple barns’ selling the fruits of their labors and harvest.

There were fried apple pies, preserves of every shape and description along with pumpkins for sale.
However, we had come for apples and apples it would be.

There were Grannysmiths, Jonagolds, Pink ladies, Honey crips, Winesaps, Arkansas Blacks, Ozark Gold, Romes,
Fujis…any variety you’d like to purchase is most likely found by the bag or bushel.

I opted for the tried and true Winesaps and a bag of Arkansas Blacks—
an apple variety that I’m told does best if it is stored chilled in a root cellar for a few months—
Since I don’t have a root cellar, I’ll opt for the fridge in the basement.

After gathering our apples, we continued northward toward a stop in the quaint mountain
town of Blue Ridge…the home of the North Georgia Railway offering train rides up through
the north Georgia mountains.

Blue Ridge is such a dog-friendly little town.
Some of the public parking lot’s proceeds go toward the local animal shelters.
We saw every kind of dog on holiday with “their people.”

We stopped for lunch at a lovely spot on the crowded downtown strip, Harvest on Main,
a place we’ve enjoyed on previous visits.
I had the tastiest drink sporting some local bee pollen…go figure!


(The Harvest / Julie Cook / 2019)

As the afternoon was beginning to wane, we opted to head back toward the more flatlands of home
rather than continuing eastward over the northern part of the state towards Blairsville, Helen
and Georgia’s gold capital of Dalonagha…

Sadly, however, we were more than aware that we had yet to really see any colorful foliage,
as our Fall is struggling from our having had one more extreme record hot and dry Summer.

We retraced our steps back towards Elijay, opting to take Hwy 52 / 2, a road that would carry us over
Fort Mountain back towards Chatsworth, Ga. and Hwy 411 South.

I’ve lived in Georgia all of my life, less than two hours away from Fort Mountian,
and yet I had never heard of this “mountain” nor of the state park of the same name.

“Mystery shrouds the ancient stone wall of Fort Mountain State Park,
located near the Cohutta Wilderness, offering you a look back in time to the previous inhabitants,
as you discover 60 miles of recreational trails and majestic overlooks.”
A scenic drive on Highway 52 near the Cohutta Wilderness leads visitors
to this mountain getaway.
Hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders will find some of the most beautiful trails in Georgia,
winding through hardwood forest and blueberry thickets,
crossing streams and circling a pretty lake.
Hikers can also explore a stone fire tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps
and an ancient rock wall that stands on the highest point of the mountain.
The mysterious 855-foot-long wall is thought to have been built by early Indians
as fortification against more hostile Indians or for ancient ceremonies.

During summer, visitors can cool off on a lakeside beach.
Park guests may stay overnight in fully equipped cottages, a campground or backpacking campsites.

Fort Mountain State Park History

Fort Mountain State Park sits at the southwestern end of the Cohutta Mountains
near the Cohutta Wilderness. Sitting at 2,850 ft above sea level, Fort Mountain
is a great destination for hiking and history lessons alike.
The area in and around the park was home to the Cherokee Indians for hundreds of years,
and their legacy is still felt throughout North Georgia today.

We stopped at an overlook, just before reaching the state park, that was actually the pinnacle of this
“mountain”— hoping to catch a touch of color.
The vistas pointed toward both Tennessee and North Carolina.

There was a couple with their dog who had also climbed up to the outlook.
They asked where we were from… we told them and they told us that they were from
Jacksonville, Fl. They had driven up last year and had opted to come back this year.
They were just so impressed to know that Georgia had such splendor.
I inwardly smiled with a touch of pride as we all like hearing folks from other states
saying nice things about your own state.

But as you can see, there was little if any color for viewing.
A few yellows, a few reds but green is still reigning supreme.

Maybe in a few more weeks things will be turning more colorful…

Despite the lack of fall color—the deviation of a pursuit that was other than
the typical was most welcomed and most refreshing…plus I learned a thing or two
about my state that I didn’t know before…

How’s that little verse, or is it a poem, go??
‘The world is wide and wonderful, wherever we may roam…
but our thoughts return to precious things such as friends and love and home…

It’s not always the pursuit now, is it???…
It is, more or less, the journey itself that is what matters most…

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Psalm 119:105
(as seen on a small country chruch’s sign during our drive northward)

The Church at Angoville

(another re-post D-Day tribute…
May we always remember that the success at the invasion of Normandy,
and the eventual ending of WWII in Europe and later in the Pacific,
was not so much a matter of great men doing certain things great nor of making
great decisions but rather it was the matter of ordinary men and women doing
ordinary things that would become,
in the end, great things that continue to affect us today—
and we are the better for it and are a free people to this day because of those ordinary folks!)

“All my life I made it a matter of principle to tend all soldiers
equally whatever their uniforms could be. I could not say to the Germans:
“You sit there and if you are bleeding to death. I don’t care”

Army Medic Robert Wright


(Église Saint-Côme-et-Saint-Damien d’Angoville-au-Plain..
the humble church at Angonville / Julie Cook / 2018)

Despite it being September 22 it was an unusually cold and blustery day…
or so it seemed for our little group of four from both Georgia and Florida.
However, this was Northern France, just inward from the North Atlantic coast.

The rain came in spurts…sometimes blowing sideways, sometimes merely misting.
The temperature was in the low 50’s but the howling 35 mph gusts made it seem much colder.

Somber weather for a somber day.

Our driver turned the van we were calling home for the day around a sharp corner along
a quiet narrow street as we came to a stop on a gravel drive just aside a large
ancient oak.

We exited the van, with umbrellas in hand, huddling together, as a small group of 5—
the four from Georgia and Florida and one from Holland who now made
Normandy, France his home as we readied ourselves for something that we all
sensed was going to be so much greater than ourselves.

The guide’s name was Mike.
Mike Van Den Dobbelsteen with Bayeux Shuttle Service.
Mike is a Dutchman who has a nearly perfect British accent…
but of course, this particular day was his 12th wedding anniversary…
his wife hails from England which helped to explain his heavy British accent.

His enthusiasm and depth of knowledge regarding history…in particular this history
was immense.

It was still early in our day’s adventure,
although having just come from the German Cemetary in Normandy,
we now found ourselves standing outside the doors of an extremely humble
little stone church.

A church that would be easily overlooked by passerbys.
A church that harkened back to a different time.
A church that was named for two martyrs who had actually been medical doctors.
An odd coincidence given the role this church played during a day that changed
our world’s history.

The beginning of this tiny church dates back to the 11th century, to 1088 to be exact…
but it was what happened in the middle of the 20th century, 9 centuries following the
inception of this church, that actually puts this church on the map of modern history.

As we stood gathered under the large tree shielding us from the cold pelting rain,
my eyes immediately gravitated to the dark granite cross-like marker standing stoically
on the grounds of this seemingly humble French church.

Toccoa.

My uncle and aunt had made Toccoa, Georgia their home for nearly 50 years.
It was in that small northeast Georgia town in which my cousins had spent their
childhood growing up…
Was there some sort of a connection between this tiny town in northwestern France and that
of the North Georgia town bearing that stone cross’s inscription?

Yes.

Yes, there was indeed a connection.

In the early 1940s, Toccoa, Georgia found itself home to the World War II
“Screaming Eagles” paratrooper corps.
E Company to be exact.
E Company was based at Camp Toccoa, a rustic training base located in
northeast Georgia that operated from 1942 through 1945.

It was that same E Company which trained in Toccoa, Georgia that would find itself
falling from the sky on June 6, 1944, into and around the tiny French Village of
Angonville-Au-Plain. A far cry from the north Georgia skies where they had practiced
for this very moment.

The French Village Angoville-au-Plain lies between St-Côme-du-Mont and Vierville,
at the D 913 in Normandy. It is a small village with at its center a small church.
The village was part of DZ (drop zone) D in June the 6th 1944.
Drop zone D was the most southern drop zone of the 1st and 2nd Battalion,
501st PIR (Klondikes) of the 101st Airborne Division.
The first 48 hours after the jump heavy clashes found a place between American
paratroopers and German Fallschirmjäger, which are rather elite German airborne infantry.

By Guido Wilmes
Translation Thijs Groot Kormelink

Mike offered us a briefing regarding the Nazis who had hunkered down in and
around this tiny village as well as the allied airdrop of paratroopers who had
floated out of the sky behind enemy lines…

This was to be the first line of a hoped-for offensive.

“Serg. Jim Cox was fighting at Angoville with 52 Paratroopers.
The shelling by mortars and 88 mm guns were so violent that they decided to rejoin
the command post of Bob Sink.

The area of the church at Angoville changed hands several times.
When the Germans arrived in the village they saw the Red Cross flag at the door of the church.
Noticing that German casualties [that] were lying on the pews together with the paratroopers
[so] they left.
The church protected by the Red Cross remained a heaven [haven] of peace
in the middle of a battle.

(excerpt from a brochure provided by the city of Angoville-Au-Plain/
brackets are my corrections)

The impromptu medical clinic was manned by two American airmen, members of the Toccoa
Screaming Eagles, who had only a month’s worth of medical training between them.
75 badly wounded men, both American and German, were under the care of these two haphazard
medics—
Medic Robert Wright and Private Kenneth Moore.

“Robert Wright and I, said private Kenneth Moore, a stretcher bearer,
were the only once to look after the casualties in the church of Angoville.
In the evening we had got 75 of them.
Our own folk had come to tell us that they could not stay any longer.
So we were left alone with the wounded soldiers.
A German officer soon arrived.
He asked me if I could tend the Germans as well.
We accepted.
During the night the churchyard was the scene of a battle.
Two of our casualties died.
But among those I could tend, none lost their lives.
I tended all sorts of wounds, some were skin-deep but others were more serious
abdominal cases.”

The blood stains, stains that soaked deep into the wooden pews,
remain clearly visible all these 74 years later.

It is said that the two medics would move the more critically wounded to the front of
the church in order to be near the altar of as they wanted these men to
find a sense of peace should this be their last night on earth.

At one point two German soldiers, who had been hiding in the loft of the church, came down a
side set of stairs holding arms high in the air as they attempted to surrender
to these two bewildered American medics.
They told the German soldiers that there was no time for surrender…they needed them to go
out and fetch some fresh water as they needed their help tending to the wounded men.
The German soldiers willingly obliged.

As I type my recollection of this emotional visit with its surreal story,
I feel the warm tears filling my eyes.

There are so many links to a wide array of sites (some I’ve listed below) that can tell
the story of Angoville with greater detail than I can.
Those who are much more knowledgeable than I…

I wish I could somehow convey the tremendous emotions…emotions from humility to gratitude
that now fill me as I try to share and convey this individual tale…an individual story of
duty and humanity that is but one out of thousands of tales during this particular time of madness.

It makes me feel very very small…and given our current days and time…
I think we might all benefit from feeling small.

The fact that two men who fell woefully short in medical training saved all but two
of the men who were entrusted to their care…men from both sides of battle,
all the while behind enemy lines is short of miraculous.

As miraculous was the fact that a mortar came crashing down through the roof of this tiny church’s
ceiling landing in the middle of and sticking with a thud smack dab in the center of
the ancient slate floor…

A mortar that did not explode.

Had it exploded, as it should have, the church would have been leveled and all the men killed…
leaving the village of Angoville as just another forgotten causality of war.

Some say it was the saints Côme and Damien who watched over this motley crew of wounded
soldiers and hapless caregivers.

“What allowed that medic to hold for 72 hours without food and rest?
Wright later explained…”The simple concern of helping other people.
When you do something that is worth doing you don’t think of your own life.”

In 1999 Robert Wright made a pilgrimage back to this tiny church.
He noted that “the church at Angoville will never be on the list of the important
churches to be visited in Europe. Yet however small the building is,
it does not prevent God understanding where hearts and prayer are.
They were many in this place.”

Robert Wright passed away at the age of 89.
His wish was to be buried in the cemetery of the same small church where he
had worked alongside Kenneth Moore to save the lives of 80 men.

His grave is simple and yet speaks volumes in its simplicity.

Today there are only 53 people who remain living in Angoville-Au-Plain.
The local mayor asks those who visit to please remember the importance of this
special place.
I will be sending them a donation…the euros I brought home along with a US monetary donation.

I want to do so because places like Angoville are too important for us to simply allow them to
succumb to the fickleness of time…
because time has an odd way of making us forget what once was while we busy ourselves
so as to not see what will be but rather we allow ourselves to wallow in the current moment
which only hopes to swallow us whole.

There are two stain-glass windows which were installed not long ago which commemorate
the importance of this church.

</a

This will be the first of several tales that I’ll be sharing regarding the big retirement
adventure trip which focuses on the real reason for the trip…that being the visit to
Normandy, France, and the D-Day Memorials…

https://www.rockdalenewtoncitizen.com/news/local/a-veteran-s-story-the-little-church-that-could/article_47f87fc0-5330-554b-8326-4b8cb975a3d9.html

501st Aid Station in the church of Angoville-au-Plain

https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2018/august/28/toccoa-georgia

Omaha, Utah, Sainte-Mère-Église

Re-post for the observation of D-Day…


(view from one of the myriad of German bunkers that covered the Normandy coastline /
Julie Cook / 2018)

Several years ago, one Sunday afternoon I found myself flipping through the television
channels in hopes of finding something of interest.
I stopped on what was obviously a dated war movie.
Yet having never seen the movie, I knew immediately what it was…
It was the 1962 film The Longest Day.
A big screen depiction of the lead up to and the event of
the Invasion of Normandy…D-Day.

The movie starred John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and Richard Burton along with a host of
other big-name stars of the day.

Despite not particularly wanting to watch a war film on this particular sunny Sunday afternoon, I
hunkered in, none the less, ready to endure a long afternoon watching a long film about
about a truly significant long day.

My purpose here is not to retell the historical events of that infamous day now 74 (now 75) years ago.
but rather to offer a glimpse into what was and what is.

(*This trip was the bucket list gift for my husband upon his retirement from 50 years spent in business.)

Our day for the D-Day tour couldn’t have been much worse.

As I noted in a post from the other day…there was rain, lots of rain…blowing wind and
bitter wet cold.

And yet the peaceful ebbing ocean that greeted us this day,
was anything but peaceful 74 years ago


(a parasilor enjoys the surf that was once red from the blood lost by those
soilders who never got to shore)

Rain blew sideways, winds gusted 35 to 40 MPH, umbrellas turned upward and a Patagonia
rain jacket that hails as an H2No…proved to be no match as I might as well
have been wearing a paper bag.

But the weather didn’t seem to matter on this particular September day as it seemed
almost fitting.
I knew that the weather on this northwestern coast of France, a coast right off the
often chaotic English Channel is famous for its squalls and unpredictability.

A predicament that proved crucial 74 years ago as the Allied forces needed a window to open.

During the course of our tour, I learned that the movie The Longest Day,
along with other similar movies such as Saving Private Ryan, are actually more movie
than truth.

John Wayne’s character was not the pivotal commanding officer that decisive day but because
John Wayne demanded the most airtime, his character came across as such.
The true leader of the offensive that day was a mere blip in the movie.

And the real tale of the Ryan brothers was not what Tom Hanks offered us as viewers…
And the currently hanging mock paratrooper who perpetually dangles from the bell tower
of Sainte-Mère-Église did not actually fall on that side of the tower at all.
Today’s manikin hangs from its current wall because it simply offers a better view
for visitors arriving into town.

John Steele, the unfortunate soldier whose parachute got hung up on the church tower, in the tiny
village of Sainte-Mère-Église survived his predicament but unfortunately went deaf
that fateful night—
It was the night that he, along with hundreds of parachuters jumped on a moonless night
out of hundreds of planes sent behind enemy lines just prior to the following day’s
infamous landing.

It just so happened that a fire had broken out in town and the church bells were ringing…
endlessly ringing alerting the villagers and occupying Germans that there was a fire and
that all available hands were needed to assist in putting out the fire.
Steele, having been shot in the foot, had to “play” dead so the Germans would not continue
shooting at him.
He hung for hours beside those ringing bells.

Other soldiers fell into the trees, getting tangled up in the limbs…many broken bones
and suffered traumatic puncture wounds…
those lucky enough not to be shot while falling from the sky, hunkered in to fight.

Many who were shot as they helplessly floated in the night sky were killed long before
even hitting the ground.

One soldier that fell into this particular tree worked frantically to cut himself loose
from his shute, cutting off his thumb in the process.
Once he fell free to the ground, bleeding profusely, he managed to
get to a secure location in order to engage the enemy

Bullet holes remain in the rod iron fencing around a home once occupied by the
German commanding officer of the occupying army.
The scars of a small village which are the remaining physical reminders of
a battle fought so long ago.

From Utah Beach, we climbed down, in and around the now chared bunkers.
Soldiers who managed to survive the initial assault after storming the beachhead
and then scaled the rocky cliffs, tossed grenades into the bunkers or used flamethrowers
to render the giant guns, used to fire at the Allied Naval ships just off the coast,
inoperable…


(one of the large guns remains in its bunker/ Julie Cook / 2018)


(the stone base where one of the “big” guns was once postioned)


(the hedgehog, that giant steel x shapped barrier, is origianl)

These particular beachheads were chosen in part due to the fact that the sand is
extremely dense and compactable.
Not a soft fluffy sort of sand but rather a hard packed sand, hard enough to allow
heavy equipment to be brought ashore.

Beachgoers today continue finding remnants of that fateful day.

What appears to be a grassy covered dip in the landscape is actually a bomb crater…
the shoreline is covered with such craters…

Sheep have been brought in to assist with ground maintenance as mowers cannot traverse
the pockmarked landscape

Bunkers and beaches have been transformed and are now somber memorials…

Eventually, we moved inward, driving a few miles from the beaches,
making our way to a tiny village and its cafe Cafe J. Phillippe….a cafe
that once greeted war-weary soldiers just as it greeted us this cold wet afternoon.

Mike holds a photograph of Allied troops making their way to this same village.
Stopping just as we did for a needed bite to eat…
the cafe remains just as it did 74 years ago–preserved and frozen in time…

Following our late lunch, we made our way to the final leg of our day which seemed most
fitting as it was indeed the final leg for upwards of 9400 men and women.

Yes, there are actually four servicewomen buried here in the cemetery.

The trees that line the cemetery are all capped off at the top…cut off as a purposeful
and a visual reminder of all the fallen whose lives were cut short.

As visitors to the cemetery, we noticed that the names on all of the markers appeared
to be turned around as if backward— facing away from arriving visitors.
However, we were told that there was a purpose here as well… all 9,387 markers face west…
as in they face home…a homeland that these brave men and women would never see again.

Seeing a sea of impeccably white and neatly aligned stars and crosses standing in silent
attention, each turned so as to face the United States which was nearly 5000 miles away
was almost more than my heart could bear.

Oddly the number of the buried in the cemetery continues to fluctuate.

Modern technology now allows for DNA testing on remains that are still being discovered.
As well as for those bodies that, for all these years, have gone unnamed and unknown.
The families of those Americans now being identified are afforded the option to either bring
home their loved one or to allow them to remain in France…buried in the American Cemetery.

The United States has vowed that it will identify all unknown soldiers buried in France.
Thus the number of buried now changes yearly with the latest body
receiving honors this past summer.

There is even one soldier from WWI who is actually buried in this WWII cemetery.

President Theodore Roosevelt, cousin to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had 4 sons.
All four sons served in WWI. The youngest son, Quentin, was a WWI flying ace who was shot
in the head during a dogfight and whose plane eventually crashed.
Two other sons suffered serious injuries during the war but
it was Quentin who remained behind as he was buried in Belgium.

Years later his older brother Teddy Jr, who was at this time a grown man with a successful
business and political career was also a soldier.
Teddy Jr was actually a brigadier general.

By 1944 Teddy Jr. was in poor health suffering from both a serious heart condition and
crippling arthritis.
Knowing of the impending invasion, Teddy Jr. requested to be assigned as a
leading commander.
Yet due to his health, his initial request was denied.
Undeterred, he petitioned the high command and was allowed to serve as leading commander.

Teddy Jr. bravely leads the assault on Omaha Beach.
Four days later, Brig Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr died from a massive heart attack.

The Roosevelt family was asked if they would like for Teddy Jr’s body to be brought home for
burial at Arlington—however knowing that Teddy would want to remain with his men,
he was buried in France.
The family then asked if Quentin could be exhumed from his grave in Belgium and moved to be
besides his brother.
The request was granted.

And so when I hear of the stupidity, yes stupidity, about over-payed Football players, athletes,
and even now cheerleaders, who are all wanting to kneel during the singing of our National Anthem…
claiming that the flag of the United States does not represent them…
I am incensed.

Those kneeling individuals such as Colin Kaepernick, who is the poster face for
all things disrespectful, are no heroes.
It is not a risk to life to kneel rather than stand at the start of a ballgame.

He and his ilk are certainly entitled to their feelings and thoughts…
Kaepernick may even speak out and state his peace as to why he feels the flag does
not represent him or who he is—and who he is is a young man of mixed heritage
who happened to have been adopted as a child and reared and raised by a white family
who afforded him all the privileges and comforts of middle-class family life…
He attended and played football on scholarship at UNLV–in part because that was the
only school, as reported by his mom, who would give him a scholarship.

And yet the irony in all of this is found in the lives and eventual death of those
young men from a previous and different generation who were actually the ones who
stormed those Norman beaches…
They were fearful and nervous as to what awaited them on that fateful June day in 1944—

Young men…some who prayed, some who smoked, some who whimpered through tears
and those who sat stoically before they were given the call to charge…

They raced into the sea which turned red with their blood, racing into a hail of
machine gun fire, grenades, and bombs blasting all around them…
they did so for the likes of Colin Kaepernick and his NIKE sea
of followers…they did so as well as for you and me…for those of us who are humbled
by their bravery and for those of us who prefer to show disdain for the same flag these
young men proudly carried and quickly died under…

https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/normandy-american-cemetery#.W8j6f6eZP2Q

Before and after…the question

The south facade of Notre Dame before the fire…


(South exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

Now the upper portion of the same facade, after the fire…


(Associated Press)

Despite the brilliant blue sky, the delightfully warm late afternoon sun,
a heaviness continued to linger…

I dumped a portion of the hardwood chunks of charcoal into the grill then used the
lighter to ignite the charcoal.

When the soft yellow-orange glow began, I closed the lid, cracking open the vents while I
proceeded to wait.

Soon enough, I opened the lid as the flames rose while the burning wood chips popped
and crackled.

I stared down into the grill, filled with those yellow-orange licking flames,
while I purposely and intently listened to the sounds of both fire and wood.

My thoughts seemed to have gotten stuck on an unseen replay button…
replaying the scenes from yesterday’s images of both Notre Dame and of the fire.

I thought of each trip, over the past decades of my life,
that I have walked into that cavernous and overwhelmingly
historic and spiritual “house” of worship.

The sounds of my own footsteps echoing off the soaring stone walls and massive pillars
as my steps reverberated against the barrel vault high above my head.

Awe stopped me in my tracks as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting
while the hints of pungent incense lingered in my nostrils.

I grappled with the magnitude of the historical and the physical while my mind
wrapped around the Spiritual impetus for this seemingly gargantuan whale that
had suddenly swallowed me whole.

The rising flames in the grill jerked me back to the present and my need
to get about my grilling supper…

I would say that this historic and catastrophic fire is proving devastating
on a great many levels.

The world is painfully mourning an iconic cultural loss.
Paris is mourning a devastating loss of an iconic piece of her home’s heart.
As we the world mourn both an artistic and architectural loss.

The proverbial bucket list destination for tourists and one of the spiritual
pilgrimage destinations on the lists of the faithful is now forever changed…
just as much of humankind is now changed.

But what I think is even more important, the fire has shaken loose a deeply hidden
sense of loss found in most of Western Civilization…it is a loss on a subconscious level
that we’ve never been able to put our finger on…
a loss that has long existed…one we have subconsciously known
was there but yet we didn’t know.

It is the loss of our Christian Spirituality…
our Spirituality that we have allowed to slip from, not merely our
hands, but from our very psyches and souls.

Yesterday I offered a response to a friend’s comment on my day’s post regarding
the fire and that comment has now lingered in my thoughts…

“someone I was listening to last night posed the question—– and I’ll paraphrase-
‘With so much of Europe becoming so secularized—–we’re seeing these massive ancient bastions
of Christian faith becoming more and more like museums rather than houses of worship.
With everyone now clamoring to rebuild…
the question we must be asking ourselves is what are we rebuilding?

Are we rebuilding a museum that lost so much art, etc…art that can never be replaced…
or are we rebuilding a church, a house of worship?…

I find that to be the very key question for our very postmodern Christian selves”

It is not lost on me that we are in the midst of the most Holiest of weeks within
all of Christendom while in the midsts of an ever-shrinking Christian faith
in our culture.

This fire is yet another visceral image of our own human tragedy and the fall of man.

It shakes loose our hidden sense of grief and loss over our flailing and fragile faith.

Christ descended into the depths of a raging fire of our very sin…
and on the third day, He rose from those ashes…

May we now use this sense of loss and grief, allowing our faith to be rekindled as we too rise
upward out of the ashes of what has become such a sinful loss…

Loss no more..but only gain…as the spire rises again…

“So you’re giving up?
That’s it?
Okay, okay. We’ll leave you alone, Quasimodo.
We just thought, maybe you’re made up of something much stronger.”

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

when man reaches up towards Heaven…

“Spira, spera.”
(breathe, hope)
Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

The day we met,
Frozen I held my breath
Right from the start
I knew that I’d found a home for my heart…

I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more…

(Lyrics from Christina Perri A Thousand Years)


(Pieta by Niccola Coustou / Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2019)

Notre Dame—Our Lady of Paris

850 years of–

Christianity
faith
religion
spirituality
mysticism
relics

history
ingenuity
construction
architecture
labor
sacrifice

art
sculpture
poetry
prose
music
colored glass

revolution
desecration
coronations
funerals
burials
weddings

bishops
nuns
confessions
monastics
saints
sinners

humanity
bloodshed
loss
wars
peace
victories

humankind
survival
life
death
breath
hope…

Yet for now, there are too many emotions to express regarding this collective sense
of sorrow, grief and loss.

Our frail and feeble earthly attempts to reach upward to God will each eventually perish
while fading to both ash and dust…

and yet…

Our Heavenly Father’s reach, downward to us his children, will remain for eternity…


(detail of Virgin and Child by Antoine Vassé / Norte Dame Cathedral / Paris, France/ Julie Cook / 2019)


(detail of the iron work on the main entrance doorway / Norte Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2019)


(detail of the central portal (central enterance) of Notre Dame Cathedral / The Last Judgment, constructed in 1220/
Julie Cook / 2019)


(vaulted ceiling of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France/ Julie Cook / 2019)


(South Rose Window / 1260 / Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook 2019)


(South exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)


(detail of flying buttresses and gargoyles / Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)


(detail of bell tower / Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France/ Julie Cook / 2011)


(south view of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)


(Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / 2011)


(Wesrtern facade of the bell tower entrance Notre Dame Cathedral /Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

“He therefore turned to mankind only with regret.
His cathedral was enough for him.
It was peopled with marble figures of kings, saints and bishops who at least
did not laugh in his face and looked at him with only tranquillity and benevolence.
The other statues, those of monsters and demons, had no hatred for him –
he resembled them too closely for that.
It was rather the rest of mankind that they jeered at.
The saints were his friends and blessed him; the monsters were his friends and
kept watch over him.
He would sometimes spend whole hours crouched before one of the statues
in solitary conversation with it.
If anyone came upon him then he would run away like a lover surprised during a serenade.”

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame