July 19, 2017 Edition

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A highest of high points

John Bland

A highlight of the recent Arkansas Press Association's SuperConvention was hearing World War II veteran Morley Piper's presentation. The 92-year-old retired newspaperman was part of the Omaha Beach invasion of Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

At the time of the event, which was the largest amphibious invasion in history, Morley was only 19 years old. He was a second lieutenant with the 29th Infantry. Enlisting at age 18, he was still at the age of innocence, having had an ordinary childhood that was shaped by growing up in "the steel grip of the Great Depression."

Regiments of soldiers were decimated as they arrived on the beach and got off their Higgins boats. Morley said, "it is not possible to realize the enormity of difficulty" they encountered upon their arrival to shore. "We learned that as soon as we landed, the advantage was held by the Germans. Germans were heavily fortified on high bluffs."

As soon as the boat ramps went down, the soldiers, who were weighed down by heavy equipment, had to wade in knee-deep water and then cross a wide beach. Many were shot down, drowned or stepped on mines. Morley said that each soldier was "on our own mostly" and confusion reigned. "Surviving was about all we could do at first."

Morley said the event was "inexpressibly sad," and every day they faced trials and danger.

For 50 years, Morley, like so many others of his generation, did not speak of the horrors of D-Day or the war. However, he returned to France to attend the 50th anniversary ceremonies of D-Day, and afterwards, he was asked to speak about it. That's when the floodgates opened.

He returned to France again for the 70th anniversary of the invasion and stood on the beach at 6:30 a.m. at the time of the invasion. The ceremony ended with a toast for the six veterans, including Morley, who returned for the event. An eight-member brass band played, "Nearer, My God, to Thee."

Morley ended his presentation to the press association by asking the crowd of approximately 100 people to join him in singing, "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." Giving him a standing ovation, there were few dry eyes among the crowd.

Tom Larimer, APA executive director, described Morley's presentation as perhaps the highest of high points of any APA convention.

Morley lives in the Boston area, and his visit to Little Rock was his first trip to Arkansas.

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