A memorial service was held in Staunton on this day in 1944 for U.S. Army Maj. Thomas Dry Howie, known to the world as the “Major of St. Lo.” “The services being attended by the widow of the hero, his daughter Sally, and hundreds of friends, relatives and men of the 116th Infantry, his former regiment.” Howie was an English teacher and coach at Staunton Military Academy when he was commissioned into the U.S. Army Reserve and later transferred to the Virginia National Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment of Staunton.
Howie survived the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach and led his battalion through German lines to capture the small town of St. Lo, France. Howie was killed during the attack, and on the following day his soldiers carried his flag-draped body through the town, laying it on top of the rubble of the St. Croix cathedral as they continued their successful fight.
An iconic photograph of Howie’s flag-draped body was widely circulated throughout American and French newspapers and he was dubbed “The Major of St. Lo.” It is speculated that the character of Army Capt. John H. Miller (played by Tom Hanks) from the 1998 film “Saving Private Ryan,” was based on Howie.
Stars and Stripes correspondent Andy Rooney witnessed the event and later, as a CBS European broadcaster, Rooney memorialized Howie saying:
“More Americans were killed taking St. Lo than were killed on the beaches. A major named Tom Howie was the leader of the battalion that actually captured Saint Lo. At least he was the leader of it until he was killed just outside town. After he died, his men picked him up, carried him into town and placed him on a pile of stones that used to be the wall of a church. I guess there never was an American soldier more honored by what the people who loved him did for him after he died. There can be no doubt that Thomas Howie was a charismatic leader, a courageous soldier and a man of outstanding character.”
The Major Thomas D. Howie Memorial National Guard Armory and 116th Regimental Museum in Staunton is named in his honor.