BEDFORD, Va. –
Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and alumni from The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, attended a memorial plaque dedication at the National D-Day Memorial June 4, 2022, in Bedford, Virginia.
The plaque honors all graduates and former cadets of The Citadel who participated in the Allied D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II, including the Virginia National Guard’s Maj. Thomas D. Howie. Howie served as the 116h Infantry Regiment’s operations officer during the landing and was later killed while devising a plan to take the town of Saint Lô, earning him the nickname “The Major of Saint Lô.”
VNG Soldiers assigned to the Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band performed ceremonial music for the event.
Born in the town of Abbeville, South Carolina, Howie chose to attend college at The Citadel. He flourished in academics and sports, and excelled in student leadership as class president. After his graduation, Howie relocated to Virginia. Prior to his service in WWII, Howie taught English and coached at Staunton Military Academy.
He was commissioned into the U.S. Army Reserve and later transferred to the Virginia National Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment in Staunton. On June 6, 1944, Howie, serving as the regimental operations officer, and his men would find themselves wading to shore under a hailstorm of fire in the infamous D-Day invasion of Normandy. Howie would survive the invasion and was appointed the commander of 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, and coordinated and led the rescue of 2nd Battalion, which was pinned down and taking heavy losses near La Madeleine. He then devised the plan to attack and take the town of St. Lô.
While giving his company commanders instructions for the attack, the unit came under fire from German mortars, and Howie was killed, moments after telling 29th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Charles Gerhardt, “See you in Saint Lô.”
Howie’s loss was deeply grieved by his men and command. Gearhart ordered Howie’s body to be laid on a stretcher, covered with a U.S. flag, and be placed on top of a jeep so he would be the first American to enter the ruins of Saint Lô. His flag-draped body was placed upon the rubble of the destroyed St. Croix Cathedral during the battle for liberation. A photograph of this would become one of the best-known photos from WWII.
Howie was visited by many Americans and French citizens who wished to show their respect. He became known as “The Major of Saint Lô’’ because his name could not be released with the photograph until his next of kin had been notified.
“Major Howie was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the French Legion of Honor, and was one of the best beloved battalion leaders in the American Army,” said Steven Smith, the Citadel Alumni Association historian.
Arguably the best-known Citadel alumni to make the ultimate sacrifice during Operation Overlord, Howie shares his sacrifice with many service men from the college and the Virginia National Guard. The small town of Bedford, Virginia, suffered the loss of 19 men, sustaining the highest fatality rate in Operation Overlord. This tragedy resulted in the National D-Day Memorial being built and dedicated within county limits.
Fifteen Citadel cadets and alumni were killed in action during Operation Overlord, including Howie. Some of these service members were never able to complete their program at the Citadel due to being called to federal service.
“The plaque is a place for Citadel alumni, friends and family to come and pay tribute to the men who sacrificed their lives on D-Day and throughout Operation Overlord,” said Maj. Jeremy Flake, a member of the Citadel Alumni Association who spearheaded the effort for the plaque.