By Rod Andrew M ’93, Madison Martin ’18 & Logan Moody ’18
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Today, the beaches of Normandy, France, are quiet. Waves break on the sand, and winds pull at the grassy bluffs overhead. People meander along the shoreline, just like they do at any beach. But 75 years ago, the beaches of Normandy became the stage for one of the largest seaborne invasions in history and one of the most important battles of World War II that would liberate Western Europe and turn the tide of the war.
D-Day, the assault planned months in advance as Operation Overlord, began on June 6, 1944. Of the 156,000 Allied forces landing on Juno, Sword, Gold, Omaha and Utah Beaches, 73,000 were U.S. troops. A number of Clemson alumni were among those who stormed the beaches or landed behind German lines by parachute or glider. At least 30 would perish in the invasion.
James Mack “Jim” Harris ’35 of Fort Mill, South Carolina, came to Clemson in the midst of the Great Depression and majored in general science. He was active as a first sergeant and later as captain in the corps of cadets. The 1935 Taps yearbook indicates that he was also a member of Sigma Epsilon, the York County Club and the “Jail Bird Club.” The senior quote he chose for his yearbook was “We are lovers of the beautiful, yet simple in our tastes.”
Like many Clemson graduates at the time, Harris received a reserve commission as a second lieutenant just after graduation; he became a teacher and moved back home to Fort Mill. Less than two months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, he was called to active duty and assigned to the 4th Infantry Division for training in Georgia. By that time, Harris was married to Frances Moore Harris of Gray Court, South Carolina. When the 4th Infantry Division shipped out to England in January 1944 to begin amphibious training for the upcoming assault, Frances was about two months pregnant.
1st Lt. Harris went ashore at Utah Beach on D-Day as a platoon commander in Company E, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Division. The 22nd was in the second wave of the assault on Utah and secured most of its first-day objectives. Over the course of the next eight days, Harris distinguished himself in the bloody fighting in the “bocage” country of Normandy, where it seemed that every hedgerow concealed German machine guns and a deadly ambush. He would later be awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor, based on his leadership during those eight days. Harris’ citation noted his “gallantry in action,” and asserted that “the initiative and courage displayed by this officer reflects great credit upon himself and the armed forces of the United States.”
Within a few days of landing at Utah Beach, Harris took over as commander of Company E. Meanwhile, the 4th Division suffered heavy casualties, losing over 800 men between June 6 and June 28. Harris was one of them; on June 14, 1944, he was killed in action. When his wife got the news from the War Department five weeks later, on July 20, their baby boy, James Jr., was 3 days old.
A number of Clemson alumni were among those who stormed the beaches or landed behind German lines by parachute or glider. At least 30 would perish in the invasion.
It’s possible that Harris’s fellow Clemson alumnus David Hill Henry Jr. ’36 heard about his death before Frances did. Like Harris, Henry was assigned to the 22nd Infantry; he was an officer in Company A in the 1st Battalion. Even though they were in different battalions, news of the death of another company commander in the regiment likely would have reached Henry, especially since they were fellow alumni of the same small A&M college in South Carolina.
Henry had been one year behind Harris at Clemson, a textile engineering major of the class of 1936. Outgoing and popular, Henry was affectionately called “Duck” or “Squat” by his classmates. He served as a cadet officer and was a member of Alpha Chi Psi and Tiger Brotherhood. After graduation, he accepted his reserve commission and began working at Union Bleachery in Greenville.
Henry, like Harris, was called to active duty shortly after Pearl Harbor and assigned to the 4th Infantry Division. Henry landed at Utah Beach on D-Day and from there had fought his way inland with the rest of the 22nd Infantry. After Harris’s death on June 14, Henry fought on as the 4th Division pivoted northwest into the Cotentin Peninsula to capture the vital port of Cherbourg. As the battle continued, heavy casualties in the 22nd Infantry resulted in vacant positions — Henry was promoted to captain and took over command of Company A. He was soon recommended for a Bronze Star for valor. But on July 11, 1944, Henry fell while leading his company in action near the village of La Maugerie, about six miles from the town of Saint Lô.
Henry’s loss, of course, was a severe blow to his family. His mother, Etta Sandler Henry, had been widowed in 1932. She still had two other sons in the service — Rufus Henry ’42 was a lieutenant in an Army Air Forces B-29 squadron in south Asia and would complete seven bombing missions against Japanese forces in Burma, China and Japan. Albert Henry ’44 was a private in the Army about to deploy overseas. Albert had been scheduled to graduate from Clemson in the spring of 1944 but had postponed graduation earlier in the year to go on active duty. And yet the Henry family was destined to make yet another sacrifice for their nation’s cause: Rufus’s B-29 crashed in China on November 21, and Etta soon learned that she had lost another son within the same year. Because Albert was now the last surviving son, the War Department decided that he would not deploy overseas after all. He spent the rest of the war serving stateside and was discharged from the Army in 1946.
Albert would go on to receive master’s degrees from the University of South Carolina and the University of Missouri, and he taught for 23 years in Charleston. Later, he resettled in Clemson, where he died in 2014 at the age of 91. He named his eldest son David Hill Henry after his eldest brother.
In the early postwar years, Etta Henry made the difficult decision of what to do with her sons’ remains. Like the Harrises, she decided not to reinter her sons in South Carolina. David Henry lies in the Colleville-sur-Mer cemetery in Normandy, not far from Jim Harris, and Rufus lies in a military cemetery in Hawaii. Etta had memorial stones emplaced for David and Rufus in the cemetery at the Old Stone Church in Clemson. Both stones list their birth and death dates, the battles or bombing missions in which they served, and a quote from Scripture: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.”
Over the course of World War II, few colleges in the country would lose more alumni than Clemson. A total of 376 were lost.
At least 30 Clemson alumni were killed in the Normandy invasion:
Thomas W. Neely ’31 4th Infantry Division, 6/7/44
Edwin W. Moise Jr. ’33 7th Armored Division, 8/26/44
Thomas F. Murphy ’33 29th Infantry Division, 6/18/44
Nicholas D. Carpenter ’35 3rd Armored Division, 8/14/44
James M. Harris ’35* 4th Infantry Division, 6/14/44
Joseph B. Brooks ’36 35th Infantry Division, 7/26/44
David H. Henry Jr. ’36* 4th Infantry Division, 7/11/44
Alfred P. McPeters ’37 79th Infantry Division, 8/28/44
Alvin F. Davis ’38 7th Armored Division, 8/28/44
Alfred J. Folger ’38 3rd Armored Division, 7/15/44
Alexander F. Henderson Jr. ’38, 6/6/44
Henry M. Taylor ’38 82nd Airborne Division, 6/6/44
Denny L. Starr ’39 4th Infantry Division, 6/25/44
William S. Gaillard Jr. ’40 82nd Airborne Division, 6/17/44
Thomas E. Goodson Jr. ’40 82nd Airborne Division, 6/14/44
Jason C. Hardee ’40 4th Infantry Division, 7/15/44
Grady M. Dunlap ’41 8th Infantry Division, 8/5/44
Elmer L. McKesson ’41 83rd Infantry Division, 7/10/44
Richard T. Osteen Jr. ’41 398th Bomb Group, 8/8/44
Allan J. Snead ’41 9th Infantry Division, 8/16/44
David E. Aiken Jr. ’42 2nd Infantry Division, 6/13/44
Irvin W. West ’42 29th Infantry Division, 7/18/44
Earle W. Blackmon ’43 83rd Infantry Division, 7/5/44
James C. Herring Jr. ’43 79th Infantry Division, 7/26/44
Shelbourne L. Grantham ’44 79th Infantry Division, 7/13/44
Edward P. Lee Jr. ’44 361st Fighter Group, 6/8/44
Bennett M. Reynolds ’44, 7/9/44
Luther P. Byars ’45 29th Infantry Division, 6/8/44
Ernest H. Carroll Jr. ’45 29th Infantry Division, 6/6/44
David A. Crawford Jr. ’45 29th Infantry Division, 6/7/44
In 2017, history professor Rod Andrew M ’93 took a group of students on a study abroad class to France and Belgium to analyze the events of D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. As part of the class, each student was assigned to research a Clemson alumnus who died in WWII. Co-authors Madison Martin ’18 and Logan Moody ’18 researched James Mack Harris and David Hill Henry Jr., respectively. Read more about the class in “To Stand Where They Stood”: https://clemson.world/where-they-stood.
After this story published, we received additional information from Jim Townsend ’59:
“When I read the article, I was surprised that one of the subject servicemen was David Henry, one of my family. His mother and my grandmother were sisters. I remember when he died in action but there is more to the story that may not have been found by the students writing this story. Captain David Hill Henry’s father, David Hill Henry Sr., was in the first graduation class at Clemson.
David Sr. had a Clemson classmate, Arthur Buist Bryan, and they married sisters. Both were my great aunts. Uncle Buist was a long-time professor at Clemson. Buist’s son was Wright Bryan (Clemson grad) the first American journalist to report the D-Day landing. He was wounded, captured by the Germans, sent to a POW camp and released in ’45. Afterward, he served as editor of the Atlanta Journal and the Cleveland Plain Dealer before finishing his career as a vice president of Clemson.
My family’s ties to Clemson have continued — my dad was class of ’31, my brother class of ’56, mine was ’59, my daughter class of ’87, M ’89, my son class of ’91 and a granddaughter class of ’19. Our blood runneth Orange.”
Washington Post story about WWII correspondent Wright Bryan, who flew with U.S. paratroopers from England to Normandy and watched them jump into combat.