President Barack Obama spoke at the American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy yesterday, declaring that this country’s commitment to liberty, equality and freedom “is written in the blood on these beaches, and it will endure for eternity.”
As he spoke, D-Day veteran and Essex resident Morley Piper sat right behind him, one of roughly 200 veterans on the stage, including a handful from his 29th Infantry Division.
“It was an extraordinary day,” Piper said. He shook hands with the president three times. Obama asked where he was from and joked with another veteran about getting up a basketball game.
As a member of the 115th regiment, Piper had landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, exactly 70 years before. He stormed onto a shore already clogged with dead and wounded.
Piper returned to the beach yesterday morning. It wasn’t the first time -- he has family ties to France -- but now, “It came back. It really did. The beach is the same.”
He saw again the wide, open expanse he crossed under fire from German gunners situated on bluffs to his left, right and center. “The tide was coming in,” he recalled. That made for a long, perilous run to any shelter.
Opposite the beach Piper helped dedicate the Ever Forward monument, a statue symbolizing the men of the 116th regiment, who were meant to be the first wave on Omaha Beach. Piper remembers watching from his landing craft as they were cut to pieces. Thus, his 115th regiment was hurriedly pushed into the deadly maelstrom ahead of schedule.
The statue depicts a desperate G.I. under fire, moving off the beach, rifle in hand and yet pulling a wounded a comrade behind him. In the speeches today, Piper noted, “There were references to the water turning red.” That wasn’t mere hyperbole. “It did run red.”