By Tracey Dee Rauh
---- — Before joining the 29th Infantry Division, the young men who splashed through the ocean and stormed Normandy’s Omaha Beach mostly enjoyed carefree lives.
“We were pretty young and ordinary when we went into military service,” said Morley Piper, who was 19 years old and a 2nd lieutenant in charge of a rifle platoon of 42 soldiers on June 6, 1944.
After D-Day, those who survived that epic battle that would change the course of the war would not be innocent or ordinary anymore, however.
“Bravado comes easily to young men,” Piper said, “but the baptism of fire on Omaha Beach was heart-stopping.”
Piper was the keynote speaker at an event that drew about 100 people to The Daily News of Newburyport’s sister newspaper The Eagle-Tribune on Friday to celebrate the release of “North of Boston: Salute To Veterans,” a coffee-table book featuring thousands of area veterans, including those from the greater Newburyport area.
Published by North of Boston Media Group, the parent company of The Daily News, “Salute to Veterans” pays tribute to local veterans from the Civil War forward. Individuals who fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, The Cold War and Iraq were represented at the event, along with family members, friends and many people who just wanted to be present to show their appreciation.
“I was sort of in awe of them when I heard their stories after I told mine,” said Piper, an Essex resident and longtime journalist who is executive director of Newspaper Association Managers, Inc. “It was an honor to be among them. I thought many of them had better stories than I had.”
The crowd gave Piper a standing ovation following his speech about D-Day and the importance of talking about war experiences, even when it’s difficult because the memories are tragic.
Dick Gerrish of Kingston, N.H., came not because he’s a veteran, but because he had a promise to keep.
Gerrish brought with him a bottle of red wine from the 50th anniversary of D-Day. He was given three bottles of the wine by a family member and asked to pass them along to World War II survivors. Two bottles were successfully delivered, but Gerrish didn’t know a third D-Day veteran.
“I put the last bottle away in its commemorative box and almost forgot about it,” he said.
When he read about Piper speaking at The Eagle-Tribune, he knew exactly where he needed to be yesterday.
“It’s my honor to present this to you, Mr. Piper. Thank you for your service,” Gerrish said as he passed the bottle to Piper and the two men embraced.
North of Boston Media Group Regional Publisher Karen Andreas thanked the crowd for coming and invited comment, which led to a series of moving and at times even humorous tales of wartime experiences.
Piper said it was a pleasure to hear these people speak and also a relief because for too many years no one would talk about it.
“Veterans are certainly more interested in preserving their stories now than they used to be, as this book certainly shows,” he said. “We have an obligation to the younger generations to tell out stories. The war years were such an important era in history.”
To purchase a copy of “Salute to Veterans” visit www.eagletribune.com.