A World War II hero who may have helped change the course the of battle against Nazi Germany has died at the age of 99, according to reports.
U.S. Army veteran T. Moffatt Burriss was one of the first Americans to enter Berlin during the war and was one of the few Americans to cross the Elbe River before the Germans surrendered, according to the National World War II Museum. He is known for tricking more than 15,000 German troops into surrendering.
Burriss’ unit, the 82nd Airborne Division, was assigned to a mission along with British forces to capture bridges in Nazi-controlled territory in 1944, South Carolina-based newspaper The State reported.
His role was to lead paratroopers into enemy territory. Their efforts were later portrayed in the 1977 movie “A Bridge Too Far,” starring Robert Redford, based on the book published a few years earlier by the same name.
Very sad to hear that my good friend Moffatt Burriss passed away at the incredible age of 99.
Moffatt was a certified World War II hero and one of the driving forces for South Carolina business throughout his entire life. https://t.co/W5mB8Mawk6
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 4, 2019
In 1945, when Burriss was a 24-year-old captain, he needed to think quickly when he and his men suddenly encountered great danger.
“We drove about 40 miles, about half way to Berlin, and ran head-to-head into a German armored corps … and probably 15,000 or so troops. I needed a plan, and quick,” he said during a motivational speech delivered at the U.S. Army leadership course in 2011.
Burriss said he got out and told a German captain sitting in the lead vehicle – who happened to speak English – that he was “here to accept your surrender.”
“He looks back and says, ‘Are you crazy? Three men and a jeep?’ I said, ‘I have a whole army of paratroopers and tanks right behind me and the Russians right behind you. Do you want to surrender to us or to them?’” Burriss said.
Then, something remarkable happened. After the German captain went to confer with other officers, he came back and handed Burriss his pistol, the celebrated veteran recalled.
“He came back and walked up to me and pulled his pistol out,” Burriss said. “I thought, ‘Oh no, not here in the last few days of the war.’ Then he turned it around and handed it to me.”
Burriss’ spirit continued with him throughout his long life. In addition to his motivational speeches, he even made airborne jumps in Holland at 70 years old to honor the efforts of the Allied forces, The Post and Courier reported.
Burris died on Friday, according to an obituary on the website for Shives Funeral Home in Columbia, South Carolina.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement that Burriss “delivered freedom to people around the world and made the lives of those he touched better and safer.”
Moffatt Burriss 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 safer. (1/2)
— Gov. Henry McMaster (@henrymcmaster) January 4, 2019
McMaster ordered that flags on the Statehouse grounds be lowered from sunrise to sunset on the day of Burriss’ funeral.
(H/T: The State)