NORMANDY — D-Day veteran Morley Piper, 89, downplays his role in one of history’s pivotal moments. On June 6, 1944, he was among the first soldiers ashore on bloody Omaha Beach. “At least for a time,” he once wrote modestly, “I had been in the company of very brave men.” By the end of the day, he was among only 17 in a platoon of 48 still alive and able to fight.
On Saturday, Piper, an Essex resident, rejoined surviving heroes of the 29th Infantry Division. He helped them lay a wreath at the Arc de Triomphe and its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris.
“It was very nice,” he said yesterday of the event. Next, he rode a bus to Normandy for the beginning of ceremonies surrounding the 70th anniversary of the invasion that freed Western Europe from fascist tyranny.
“It’s been very emotional and bittersweet,” he said. “Being back brings back a lot of memories. And more so as we move along.”
Piper was a young U. S. Army lieutenant when he came ashore in 1944. Like many of his fellow soldiers, he had never experienced combat. Facing these citizen soldiers were the professionals of the German army, including fanatics who had been fighting for years and men with their backs to their own border, their homes and families. It was a mismatch, of sorts, and it might have been worse had the Russians not already taken a huge toll on the Nazis.
Certainly, there were many, particularly among the British, who feared the whole invasion was a potential disaster. Superior American air power and artillery, however, helped overcome the disadvantages — that along with fighting in the Norman countryside, which Piper said was sometimes every bit as bloody and difficult as it had been on the beach. In a few months, the Nazi war machine was pushed back and eventually sent running.