Essex veteran attends D-Day ceremony in Paris
July 8, 2014
By Alan Burke
Staff Writer | The Salem (MA) News
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.
Recently, Piper, an Essex resident and clerk of the Newspaper Association Managers, 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 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.
A warm welcome awaited Piper in Normandy where he stayed at a hotel near St. Lo, a town wrested from the Germans at great cost for both the 29th Division and the French people. It was virtually destroyed, with Allied bombers and artillery doing most of the damage. Nevertheless, Piper said, the French were friendly toward U.S. veterans.
“And the Norman people seem to be more friendly than the rest of France,” he said.
Despite the destruction and death visited on them, Piper said he believes they appreciated being liberated from German invaders. The 10 Norman towns freed by the 29th Division sponsored a dinner for the veterans.
Piper traveled with his daughter, Patricia Robert.
“He’s feeling wonderful,” she said.
When they reached the beach on D-Day, Piper recently recalled, he and his comrades discovered that the plan to bomb the shore just hadn’t come off. The planes meant to do it had been delayed by weather, and once the weather cleared, the oncoming U.S. landing boats were just too close. As a result, the bomb craters meant to shelter the incoming Americans just weren’t there. Instead, they found themselves crossing a beach at low tide, desperate for protection as Germans fired down at them from the bluffs above.
“Lots of deaths coming in,” he wrote on the 60th anniversary, “bodies everywhere, wounded everywhere. We were on our own, mostly, confusion creating disorder, soldiers running around everywhere. Here we were on Omaha Beach, and instead of being finely honed, well-trained infantry warriors, we were exhausted, almost helpless, so pinned down we could barely lift up.”
But they did “lift up,” clearing the bluffs above the beach within hours and driving inland. It was an act of incredible courage—one that didn’t end there. Piper and his division eventually fought their way into Germany, finally meeting the Russians on the River Elbe nearly a year later. It was the end of Nazism and the rescue of millions.
The invasion was remembered during the 70th anniversary event even as the men who accomplished it are swiftly passing from the scene. © Salem News 2014
This article originally appeared in the Salem (MA) News. Reprinted with permission.