Sunday, July 17, 2011

On 17 July, 1944, .....

 Major Thomas Dry Howie killed in action in preparing the final attack to liberate St Lo, France.

Thomas D. Howie was a graduate of The Citadel class of 1929. After graduation he was an English teacher and baseball coach at Stanton Military Academy. While in Virgina he joined the National Guard and was brought to active duty status when the 29th Infantry Division was activated to Federal service in 1941. When the Division was sent to England in 1942, Howie was appointed the 116th Infantry Regiment's S-3 (Operations) Officer.  On 6 June, 1944,  the 29th Division landed at Omaha Beach and Major Howie was in the thick of the second wave of soldiers.

On 13 July, 1944, Major Howie was assigned to command the 3rd Battalion. On 16 July, the 3rd Battalion used hand grenades and bayonets to break through the German lines and join the 2d Battalion, which was isolated and nearly out of food and ammunition. Howie left the 2nd Battalion to defend the position, reporting that they were "too cut up", and planned to use the 3rd Battalion alone to capture Saint-Lô. Ordered to move his unit to the eastern edge of the town, despite his own exhaustion and that of his men, Howie was heard to say, "Yes…. We can do it. Yes…if we jump off right now. Okay. See you in Saint Lo."

Howie called for his map and gave orders for the attack on Saint Lo. Then came a sudden German mortar barrage. That moment was frozen in the memory of Major Howie's executive officer, Captain William Putenny. Before Thomas Howie took cover, he turned to take one last look around, wanting to be certain that all of his men had their heads down. Suddenly, a mortar shell exploded a few yards away. A fragment struck Major Howie in the back, apparently piercing his lung. "My God, I'm hit," Howie was heard to say. Then he collapsed, falling into the arms of Captain Putenny. That was on July 17, 1944.

The later that day, the 3rd Battalion attack jumped off on time and entered Saint-Lô. The commander of the 29th Division, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Gerhardt, considered Howie's response an example of the patriotic self-sacrifice that had carried the Army through to that point. By honoring Howie, he could remind his men of the perseverance and courage of all those who had given their lives at St. Lo. Major Thomas Howie's body on the hood of the lead jeep, at Gerhard's request, so that Howie would be the first American to enter the town. As the Third Battalion entered the burning city, his men lifted Major Howie's body from the jeep, and ran through enemy sniping to a nearby church. They placed his body, draped with an American flag, on the rubble of the church wall, and returned to the battle.

The town of Saint-Lô erected a monument to Howie. Each year, on July 18 there is a wreath-laying ceremony at the Major Howie monument in St. Lo. In 1956, Collier's magazine printed a story, "The Major of St. Lo" by Cornelius Ryan. It was televised on Cavalcade of America on June 5, 1956, with Peter Graves playing the part of Howie. Howie was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the French Legion of Honor.

It has often been speculated that the character of Captain John Miller in the film Saving Private Ryan, was loosely based on Howie in the sense that both men had parallel personality traits as well as the fact that both men taught high school English and were both baseball coaches. Stephen Ambrose hinted at this during several interviews with casting.