Beaufort National Cemetery: From Glory to Great Santini



We arrived after close of business at Beaufort National Cemetery in South Carolina’s Lowcountry.

All cemeteries have stories to tell, but this one seems to have more than its share. Nineteen African-American soldiers from the Massachusetts 55th Infantry Regiment were reinterred here on Memorial Day 1989, following discovery of their remains on Folly Island, South Carolina two years earlier. Descendents of these Union volunteers—along with descendents of the all-black Massachusetts 54th Infantry and 5th Cavalry Regiments—gathered that day to honor these fallen troops.

Moviegoers became acquainted with the heroism of the 54th Massachusetts following the 1989 film Glory, starring Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick. Many scenes from Glory were filmed not far from Beaufort in Savannah, Georgia, and cast and crew members visited with cemetery staff during production.

The cemetery has a further Hollywood connection. Retired Marine Colonel Donald Conroy, father of novelist Pat Conroy, was also laid to rest here. Immortalized in print and on the silver screen as The Great Santini, Colonel Conroy holds the curious distinction of being buried twice at the national cemetery—first as his fictionalized self in the 1979 film, and then following his actual death in 1998.

The cemetery immediately drew me in, both because of its unusual fan-shaped layout and the dense shade offered by rows of majestic trees. The temperature had topped 100 and any relief from the heat was welcome. The iconic landscape familiar to cemetery visitors—and travelers throughout the coastal south—is captured perfectly in a passage from The Great Santini: “Live oak trees, festooned with cool scarves of Spanish moss, and gnarled by a century of storms, loomed over the street.” Many of these trees have kept vigil over Veterans buried here for a century and more.

Below are photographs of the Beaufort National Cemetery.

Author

Ron Walters

Comments

  1. George    

    This cemetery is significant to me because its where my uncle was buried three months ago after his death from cancer at 78 years of age. His father Oswald C. Izlar drove a staff car for Gloria Swanson during her Hollywood heyday. He was also a successful jazz musician at the time he entered medical school at John Hopkins University. During his residency there, he and a friend’s role in an illegal abortion brought his medical training to an abrupt halt. He spent the rest of his life as an automotive mechanic in Orangeburg, SC, where his brother, Dr. Willie Izlar, worked as a pharmacist. Oswald died of a stroke on his front porch after work one day. His 21 year old wife, Ruby, held his head in her lap. Young Oswald Jr. knew two more stepfathers. Ruby, a sharecropper’s daughter, was widowed the second time at the age of 26. She remarried and they lived together well into their seventies when she died. She bore three children to her first husband…three children to her second husband and two sons to her third husband. Ozwald Jr. never aspired to the educational heights of his father’s family, but he scored in a big way with everyone who knew him and respected him for his sense of humor, his wisdom, his loyalty and his simple faith. His life was a monument to human character. His father had a Masonic Lodge in SC named after him. Ozwald Jr. was a Shriner at the time of his death. The cemetery at Beaufort is indeed beautiful, but the awesome grandeur of the live oaks is decoration for the REAL treasure placed at rest among the living roots of the grand oaks. Rest well, brother Ozzie. Your memory will live forever among those who love you.

    1. SFC Capers(RET)    

      Beautiful story, thanks for sharing.

  2. Nlck    

    I enjoied this article not because of the Cemetery subject but of historical worth, I HAVEN’T seen the film CLORY, but Danzel is a favorite seen many of his films. Just today we watched one of his recent films. I also have a liking to the Great Santini Film and being 22 yrs retired I like to identify wth the title or chacter, but a far cry from actual. I do have the book seen it at Goodwill and had to have it. I will have to read i. Now not just this two items drew me to the article. Excuse please for my vanity, my name is mention in the articl no not Santini, or Danzel but VIGIL. Unfortunately I have seen it alot in reference to our service men and women and the duty connitmnt and loss. I donot pronouce it vigil but, v-hill. Thank you for the story.

  3. Chuck Taft    

    Hi!

    I enjoyed reading this article for it contains information and significant on the cemetery. Thanks

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