Bill Millin, a Scottish bagpiper who braved mortar shells, raking machine guns and sniper fire to play morale-pumping tunes for his fellow commandos from the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, died Tuesday at a hospital in the English county of Devon after a stroke. He was 88.
Millin became part of Scottish folklore as soon as he jumped into the cold French water off Sword beach on June 6, 1944, during Operation Overlord. He came to be known as the "mad piper." His courageous actions were immortalized in the 1962 film "The Longest Day," starring John Wayne and Sean Connery.
Dressed in the kilt his father wore in World War I and armed with only a ceremonial dagger, Millin was a 21-year-old soldier attached to the 1st Special Service Brigade led by Simon Fraser, better known by his Scottish clan title, Lord Lovat.
Millin played rousing renditions of "Highland Laddie" and "Road to the Isles," energizing the advancing troops and comforting the men whose last moments were spent on foreign soil. "I shall never forget the skirl of Bill Millin's pipes," one Normandy survivor, Tom Duncan, later told the London Daily Telegraph. "It reminded us of home and why we were fighting for our lives and those of our loved ones."
Millin's music, heard up and down the coastline, was so loud that one soldier told him to knock it off unless he wanted all the Germans in France to hear of the invasion.
Millin was the only bagpiper to take part in Overlord because British high command had banned them from warfront service to reduce casualties. Despite his brigade's heavy casualties - nearly half of the 1,400 commandos were killed - Millin survived without a scratch. His unit eventually captured two German snipers whose fire had wiped out many in the Allies' advance.