The life of a South Carolina native, Citadel graduate and World War II hero is the subject of a local play opening the season at Abbeville Opera House.
See You in St. Lo tells the story of Major Thomas Howie, an Abbeville resident who said those words moments before he was killed while fighting in France. The script was written by Abbeville resident Shelley Reid.
“It’s a beautiful script,”the play’s director Brad Christie said. “It’s very well-done.”
“It’s a story of the second world war, which people literally all over the world are familiar with because of what this man did and the way he’s been honored there in St. Lo, France,” Christie said. “Part of the interest for us is the local angle.”
After growing up in Abbeville, Howie graduated from the Citadel in 1929. He was by his classmates and elected president of the senior class. He also played football for the Bulldogs, helping the team upset Clemson 12-7 in 1928.
Howie was teaching English at a military academy in Virginia when he responded to the nation’s call for soldiers in WWII. After surviving the invasion of Normandy, Major Howie was killed as he prepared to lead troops to liberate the French village of St. Lo in July 1944. Historians consider it one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
“See you in St. Lo” were said to be Howie’s last words to his commanding officer before an exploding mortar took his life. The French erected a monument to Howie outside of St. Lo while Abbeville residents also erected a monument in his hometown. The Citadel honors him with the Thomas Dry Howie Memorial Carillon and Tower.
“He was a South Carolinian,” Christie said. “Grew up in this small, rural part of the state. Many of his relatives are still alive, of course, and many of them do still live in Abbeville.”
Christie said about 50 of Howie’s family members will attend the performances of the play and the cast is looking forward to meeting his daughter.
“Tom’s only daughter, who was a small child in 1941. . . is alive,” he said. “And she’s very excited about being here. The cast is very excited about seeing her and meeting her.”
Christie said he selected the script because the story transcends time.
“It remains very relevant for today and that grabbed me from the first time I read the script,” he said. “There’s a strong educational component of this script. Historically, the way these people who served in the second World War are still deeply, deeply appreciated elsewhere in the world, in some ways, more than here at home, because of what they did. Those memories are not forgotten in France or in Europe that was so devastated by the war. . . I think these are very timely messages that come across in the play.”
See You in St. Lo has performances September 21, 22, 28 and 29. Click here for more information or to purchase tickets.
Eight months before he was killed, Howie wrote this letter to his daughter, Sally:
Four days ago, I was placed in command of some 850-odd officers and men, a war-strength battalion, with all its weapons, vehicles and equipment; and the responsibility of some day committing them to battle perhaps from which a number may not return is a fearful thought. If that day should ever arrive, I hope I shall be as proud of them as I’ve always been of you. And I hope they will be well led.
I cannot honestly say that I hope I shall never have that privilege and responsibility. It’s something like football: somebody has to play the game; somebody has to beat the enemy. And all my life, I’ve tried to make the first team in everything. Sitting on the bench when game time comes is no consolation for weeks of bruising drudgery. I know. I did some bench-sitting initially in everything I set my heart on.
And I’ve been sitting on the bench and training hard for almost three years now.
Remember what I told you: sit up straight, look people in the eye, and tell the truth.
With all my heart, Your Daddy. — Provided by the Citadel