T. Moffatt Burriss, a former Columbia area contractor, Republican state lawmaker and American World War II battlefield hero, died Friday. He was 99.
Burriss’s death was announced by his family and posted on the Shives Funeral Home website.
Burriss, who was known as a humble man with a good sense of humor, served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1945 and participated in some of that war’s heaviest fighting, notably “Operation Market Garden” in the Netherlands.
That 1944 mission made massive use of U.S. and British airborne troops, whose mission it was to capture bridges deep inside Nazi-controlled territory and hold them until Allied ground troops could reach them. Burriss was in the lead elements of the American paratrooper forces, which saw in that operation some of the heaviest fighting of the war.
His and others’ roles in that operation were featured in the movie, “A Bridge Too Far.” Actor Robert Redford played a composite of Burriss and other 82nd Airborne soldiers.
Later in the war, Burriss and fellow paratroopers helped liberate a concentration camp near Wobbelin, Germany, and he saw first hand the horrors that the Nazis had unleashed upon Jewish people. As a civilian, Burriss made it his mission to bear witness to what he had seen in that concentration camp, speaking to Jewish groups and others about the horrors of Nazism.
“I was there. I saw it. I felt it. I photographed it,” Burriss said at Columbia’s Beth Shalom synagogue in 2010 at a Holocaust event to remember the 6 million Jews killed by Nazis in European death camps. “It cannot happen again. We must remember.”
The veteran also served as a representative in the South Carolina State House from 1977 to 1991 representing Richland County.
“Moffatt Burriss is one of the finest leaders our state and nation has ever produced,” S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster tweeted Friday just before noon. “He delivered freedom to people around the world and made the lives of those he touched better and safer.”
McMaster ordered that the flags on the State House grounds be lowered from sunrise to sunset on the day of his funeral. It is not clear which day that will be.