Bill Millin, "the Mad Piper of D-Day," died in Britain earlier this month at age 88. During World War II, the young soldier and bagpiper served in the regiment of Lord Lovat, the commander of the British D-Day troops who landed with the Allies on the beaches of Normandy.
On the fateful morning of June 6, 1944, the 21-year-old Private Millin waded ashore under heavy fire with the other troops, his kilt floating up around him in the waist-high water. But instead of a gun, he held his bagpipes above his head so they wouldn't get wet. There's a famous photo of him disembarking, the drones of his pipes visible in front of his face --
Although playing bagpipes in battle was strictly forbidden by the War Office, Lord Lovat had the unarmed private march up and down Sword Beach, piping Highland Laddie and Road to the Isles as a morale booster while soldiers all around him advanced or were mowed down in the German artillery and machine-gun fire. As Bill Millin said decades later, with amazing understatement, "When you're young, you do things you wouldn't dream of doing when you're older. I enjoyed playing the pipes, but I didn't notice that I was being shot at."
It was truly a miracle that he survived. German prisoners of war captured at Sword Beach subsequently said that the Germans didn't kill him simply because they thought he was insane. That's how he earned his nickname of "the Mad Piper."
There's a great YouTube video about Bill Millin if you want to check it out, complete with an interview about the day that made him a legend.
May a thousand piobaireachd (laments) be piped in his honour.