NORMANDY — Seventy years pass, and the scars of war heal, as ruined buildings stand repaired and concrete defenses are overgrown by moss and weeds.
But memory isn’t so easily fooled.
Morley Piper, 89, is participating in ceremonies marking 70 years since D-Day, when he was part of the Allied force that cracked Adolph Hitler’s Atlantic Wall and began the march that freed Western Europe. An Essex resident originally from Illinois, he landed on Omaha Beach with the 29th Infantry Division on June 6, 1944. As he rejoins fellow veterans in Normandy observing the anniversary, he’s sharing his experiences with The Eagle-Tribune.
This is not Piper’s first return to the scene of the battle. He lingered in Europe after the war, still in the Army, marrying a Red Cross worker from Ipswich named Wanda. Eventually, she took him home. Daughter Patricia Robert, who is accompanying her dad, later married a Frenchman, leading to family visits to France and Normandy. So, it should all be familiar.
But it’s not.
“It’s kind of special,” Piper said. “And to tell the truth kind of surreal. ... It’s such an odd feeling going through these towns where we were. Crossing the fields we might have crossed. But you don’t recognize them.” He can recognize the terrifying hedgerows, heaps of earth and vegetation surrounding farmers’ fields. They seem to have gotten higher since they were defensive points for the German Wehrmacht, he said. In 1944, thousands of GIs died or were wounded trying to get past them.
He knew the outskirts of St. Lo as Hill 192 and Martindale Ridge. In bitter fighting, one day Americans would hold these hills, and the next day, it would be the Germans. Today, it’s a place of peace and prosperity.
“To see them now, you wonder if we were ever there at all,” Piper said.