T. Moffatt Burriss died on Jan. 4 at age 99. He was known for his service as a South Carolina lawmaker from Richland County from 1977-90 after acclaimed service in World War II from 1942-45.
In Burriss’ celebrated life story, there is an Orangeburg connection.
The late T&D columnist Thomas Langford wrote of Burriss in 2011 in an installment of his series “Some Edisto stories” titled “South Carolina man has done it all ... and then some.”
Here are some highlights of the Moffatt Burriss story as told by Langford based on Burriss’ book, "Strike and Hold,” and an interview with him.
An Anderson native, he finished Clemson in 1940 and became a science teacher at Orangeburg High School. That's where he met Louisa Hay of Morristown, Tenn., the future Mrs. Burriss.
Burriss' stay in Orangeburg lasted only a year and a half before service in World War II. He fought in the invasion of Sicily, the liberation of Holland and several other battles, but his eyes widen when he describes the infamous "Battle of the Bulge," which began Dec. 17, 1944. Burriss calls it "the most deadly, destructive and damnable military encounter" he ever took part in.
"My 82 Airborne Parachute Division came late to the site after the Germans launched a last ditch, major attack at a weak point in our line along the Ardennes region of Belgium and tiny country of Luxembourg. They had massed all their forces -- some 500,000 men at that particular point. Facing them, new to the conflict, were the 106 Infantry and 9th Armored Divisions," Burriss said. "The Nazis blasted and hurt them with everything they had, including big artillery and Panther and Tiger Tanks."
Burriss said this inspired the note the Germans sent General McAuliffe demanding his surrender, to which he gave his now-immortal reply, "Nuts!"
"As soon as our 82nd had moved into the line, we sent out patrols to learn the Kraut positions, then linked with our troops on the left and right. Next day, having learned they were not directly to our front, orders came to move forward until we made contact," he said. "As we did, there came an ominous sound -- German tanks rumbling forward. I immediately realized that because we only carried rifles, machine guns and hand grenades, we might be pinned down. Sitting ducks, ripe to be blown to bits."
Burriss said he dispatched a squad to ambush their flak wagon, "then we rushed in, and captured it, killing the crew. We hurried to turn the wagon's 20-millimeter gun, along with our small machine guns and mortars, at them and repel the attack."
After a week of heavy fog, and being outgunned, the fog broke, he said.
"At dawn on Christmas Eve, we awoke to the thrilling sound of motors high above," Burriss said. "Our fighter-bombers had come. In minutes, we saw and heard violent explosions along the German line.
"Before long, we received a radio message that the Krauts had converged on a section in the middle of our line. Bunched together, they were trying to find a place to cross the nearby Meuse River. Suddenly, they were stranded and vulnerable. We moved immediately into winning battle."
Burriss, who was discharged as a captain and retired as a major in the Army Reserves in 1963, was part of other heavy fighting during the war, including Operation Market Garden at Nijmegen, where his unit attempted to secure the bridge over the Waal River. The battle was recounted in the 1974 book and the 1977 movie "A Bridge Too Far."
Burriss, along with his lieutenant and sergeant, took a Jeep across the Elbe River, 45 miles into enemy territory, and encountered a German Panzer corps of about 15,000 men. The Russians were nearing Berlin and the Germans were caught between the Red Army and Burriss' regiment. Burriss was able to bluff the Germans into surrendering to him rather than the Russian Army.
Over the years after the war, Burriss spoke publicly about his experiences, reminding generations of the sacrifices of so many for the freedoms we enjoy. He was among the greats from the Greatest Generation.
Learning of Burriss’ death, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster tweeted: "Moffatt Burris is one of the finest leaders our state and nation has ever produced. His family is one of the finest families I have ever known. He delivered freedom to people around the world and made the lives of those he touched better and safe."