We are leaving Iraq now, pulling out, and our soldiers cheering and unfurling the American flag as they cross into Kuwait. Because the war was covered mostly as “an issue,” or only in terms of casualties (with the implication that our losses were unjustified), we don’t know much about the valorous moments of our soldiers. 

An obituary in the U. K. Telegraph this morning (as you may know, I am addicted to the Telegraph’s obituary column) reminded me of a time when we were more likely to respect that mad valor required in times of war. Bill Millin, Lord Lovat’s personal piper, who piped the men ashore on D-Day, has died at the age of 88:     

Millin began his apparently suicidal serenade immediately upon jumping from the ramp of the landing craft into the icy water. As the Cameron tartan of his kilt floated to the surface he struck up with Hieland Laddie. He continued even as the man behind him was hit, dropped into the sea and sank.

Once ashore Millin did not run, but walked up and down the beach, blasting out a series of tunes. After Hieland Laddie, Lovat, the commander of 1st Special Service Brigade (1 SSB), raised his voice above the crackle of gunfire and the crump of mortar, and asked for another. Millin strode up and down the water’s edge playing The Road to the Isles.

Bodies of the fallen were drifting to and fro in the surf. Soldiers were trying to dig in and, when they heard the pipes, many of them waved and cheered – although one came up to Millin and called him a “mad bastard”.

His worst moments were when he was among the wounded. They wanted medical help and were shocked to see this figure strolling up and down playing the bagpipes. To feel so helpless, Millin said afterwards, was horrifying. For many other soldiers, however, the piper provided a unique boost to morale. “I shall never forget hearing the skirl of Bill Millin’s pipes,” said one, Tom Duncan, many years later. “It is hard to describe the impact it had. It gave us a great lift and increased our determination. As well as the pride we felt, it reminded us of home and why we were there fighting for our lives and those of our loved ones.”

Alex Massie, a blogger at the Spectator, also links Bill Millin’s obituary with Iraq:

 Back when the Iraq war was new and innocent and still pretty popular I recall a Scotsman headline announcing that, with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards entering the city, there was now the sound of Bagpipes in Basra. There was something thrilling, something tribal too, about this. Regardless of the arguments about the war, the skirl of the pipes summoned and honoured the ghosts (real and imagined) of warriors past.

I only hope that some day, rather than perfunctory support for “the troops,” we’ll come to know more about and fully appreciate the brave acts in Iraq that have not yet been reported.