Just an Ordinary Man
We are often surrounded by people who have done some extraordinary things during their lives. Many times, we take them for granted. I have spent most of my adult life around such men in this community that fought during World War II. I know the stories of many and don’t know the stories of even more. I wish I did.
I had the honor this past week to hear the story of
Morley Piper, a retired newspaper executive who commanded a platoon that landed on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion seventy one years ago.
My father was in Korea, and I had uncles and family in World War II. I have known many other brave veterans that served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Iraq. The list of wars is much too long. However, I don’t know that I have ever listened to a survivor of D-Day talk about that day in such deeply personal terms.
Piper didn’t talk about his own experience for 50 years. It was only at the request of his granddaughter that he began to answer some questions, and realized his own story would be lost if he didn’t share his memories.
At 19, he was a First Lieutenant; some might say a boy leading boys. They were all young and green and scared. He made a point of saying that he was no longer ashamed to say how scared they all were.
He talked of those who were lost before ever hitting the sand. Piper was part of the 29th Division. At full strength, which was seldom, there were 14,000 soldiers in the 29th. Because of their long service at the front lines, they suffered 22,000 casualties during the war. Their casualty rate of 150% was higher than any other division.
Piper’s own platoon of 43 men had only 14 soldiers left at the end of that fateful day. More young men came to replace those that were lost and they continued to fight on through France and Germany. Boys became men in a hurry.
Last year, Piper went back to France for the 70th reunion of the D-Day invasion. He spoke movingly of visiting the cemetery where thousands of brave soldiers are buried. He felt a bit of closure in that he had lived to see this place of death and destruction become a place of beauty and reflection.
Now in his 90s, Morley Piper looked 20 years younger. He stood ramrod straight, his coat adorned with rows of medals. His voice spoke the truth of the horrors of war. He honored the bravery of his fellow soldiers from that day so long ago.
Morley Piper views himself as an ordinary man. I view him as a man of courage, who, though he was afraid, went ahead and did what he had to do anyway. This dwindling group of veterans that fought on D-Day still live amongst us. They are heroes all.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org