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Better late than never

April may be the cruelest month, as T.S. Eliot, wrote, but the first six months of 1942 were equally heartless in these parts. Unrestricted Axis submarine activity turned the East Coast into a killing zone. Along the lightly defended Outer Banks, already infamous for peacetime hazards to navigation, the toll was especially horrific.

Today is V-E Day, the 58th anniversary of the Allied victory in the European Theater. At 8 a.m., in simultaneous services in Nags Head and Riga, Latvia, we shall finally pay tribute to one of the many vessels lost during the first half of 1942, when our vulnerability was painfully obvious and victory was far from certain.

U-123 torpedoed the Latvian freighter Ciltvaira Jan. 19, 1942, but it took two days to sink. Like its crew and the country whose flag it flew, it possessed great tenacity.

By then, Latvia had been crushed -- first by the Soviet Union under the terms of the secret Hitler-Stalin pact, then by Germany. The seamen rescued from the Cilt and their compatriots in seven sister ships no longer had a country. But under pain of death, they continued to ply the sea lanes for the Allies. Those at home preserved their language and culture despite unimaginable oppression. And their government in exile endured 50 years of Realpolitik and Glasnost until Latvia regained its freedom.

The events leading to this observance were highly improbable. How Latvia sustained its long thirst for independance and the story of the Cilt returned to the headlines are stories in themselves.

Please join us on the beach at the end of Ciltvaira Street in South Nags Head at 8 a.m. Bring a daisy, Latvia's national flower, to cast upon the waves.

And don't forget the British Cemetery memorial services in honor of those who in the 1942 sinkings of the Sandelfino and HMS Bedfordshire. The Buxton service will take place at 11 a.m. today; the Ocracoke service, at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

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