World War II Di­ary: Re­mem­ber­ing the Boys of Pointe du Hoc

June 6 marks the 75th an­niver­sary of the Al­lied vic­tory that saved Europe from Nazi tyranny.

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Don­nie Hudgens,

Twenty-two year old Ten­nessee Na­tional Guard Pri­vate Wil­liam Petty, from Co­hutta, had his sights set very high. He wanted to be­come part of an elite, newly cre­ated, all-vol­un­teer com­mando-type unit. Al­though well known by many to­day, the Army Rangers did not ac­tu­ally come into ex­is­tence un­til mid-1942, dur­ing the first year of Amer­ica’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in World War II.

Ranger en­try re­quire­ments were, and still are, ex­act­ing. In April of 1943, walk­ing with a limp while re­cov­er­ing from two bro­ken legs suf­fered in a re­cent parachut­ing ex­er­cise, Petty failed the phys­i­cal exam and was de­nied a spot among the 500 men be­ing cho­sen for the re­cently formed 2nd Ranger Bat­tal­ion. Iron­i­cally, it wasn’t the gimpy legs that led to his re­jec­tion, but rather his false teeth.

Pri­vate Petty be­comes a Ranger

Petty, who at­tended the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia for a while be­fore go­ing on ac­tive duty, had lost most of his teeth play­ing foot­ball. The ex­am­in­ing doctor in­formed him that he couldn’t get in the Rangers with­out his “chop­pers.”

In­censed that a den­tal is­sue such as false teeth would cause him to fail the phys­i­cal, he sought out 2nd Ranger Bat­tal­ion Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer Lt. Col. James Earl Rud­der. Ini­tially, Rud­der con­curred with the med­i­cal verdict. But, when Petty, re­fer­ring to the Ger­mans, told Rud­der, “Sir. I don’t want to eat’em. I want to fight’em,” the Ranger com­man­der ad­mired his grit so much that he de­cided right then and there to ac­cept him into the newly form­ing bat­tal­ion.

Petty would go on to win two Pur­ple Hearts, the Bronze Star and the Sil­ver Star be­fore war’s end. His valor on D-Day, June 6, 1944, is leg­endary.

Al­though he didn’t like to dis­cuss it in the years fol­low­ing the war, Petty is cred­ited with sin­gle-hand­edly wreak­ing havoc on the en­emy on that day, dur­ing the Rangers’ epic strug­gle for a rugged, rocky point on the Nor­mandy coast of France, called Pointe du Hoc.

Of all the tar­gets sin­gled out to be soft­ened up, or even de­stroyed if pos­si­ble, be­fore Al­lied in­va­sion troops stormed ashore in Europe to drive out the Nazi oc­cu­piers, Pointe du Hoc had top pri­or­ity.

Aerial and naval bom­bard­ment would pum­mel, but not neu­tral­ize, this to­po­graph­i­cally for­mi­da­ble and heav­ily de­fended promon­tory, a strip of land jut­ting out into the English Chan­nel in the shape of a dag­ger.

Sig­nif­i­cance of Pointe du Hoc

The vi­tal im­por­tance of Pointe du Hoc lay in both its strate­gic lo­ca­tion and in the mas­sive weapons po­si­tioned there. Fol­low­ing the Ger­man blitzkrieg sub­ju­ga­tion of France in 1940, the Nazis had moved six huge 155 mm French ar­tillery pieces from the eastern part of the coun­try to the north­west­ern coastal re­gion of Nor­mandy. With a range of 14 miles, these guns were ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing deadly fire down the beaches in both direc­tions, and of tak­ing lethal aim at naval ves­sels offshore as well. Sim­ply put, an in­va­sion force could have been dec­i­mated at sea and on the shore by the mon­ster ar­tillery pieces lo­cated at Pointe du Hoc.

Of im­mense con­cern was the fact that the two Amer­i­can land­ing beaches on D-Day, Utah to the west of Pointe du Hoc and Omaha to the east, we’re both en­tirely within range of the 155 mm guns lo­cated there. If not neu­tral­ized, they could have rained down death on land­ing troops strug­gling ashore and likely have tipped the scales in fa­vor of a Ger­man vic­tory over the Al­lies on D-Day.

To be sure that the big guns were taken out of the fight, 225 Army Rangers, slightly less than half of the men com­pris­ing the 2nd Ranger Bat­tal­ion, were to come ashore just prior to the main D-Day in­va­sion force of some 150,000 men. Their mis­sion, deemed sui­ci­dal by some, was to scale the hun­dred foot cliff face at Pointe du Hoc, flush out and de­stroy all Ger­man re­sis­tance from the heav­ily for­ti­fied net­work of con­crete bunkers there, dis­able the big guns, and then hold the high ground to pre­vent Ger­man re­in­force­ment of the Nor­mandy coast in this area.

Ranger valor is leg­endary

Due to rough seas and a nav­i­ga­tional er­ror by the Bri­tish Navy, the Rangers ar­rived at Pointe du Hoc some 40 min­utes be­hind sched­ule. The tide was ris­ing rapidly, and it was ei­ther scale the cliffs at once or drown. Un­der mur­der­ous Ger­man fire from above, the Rangers used spe­cially de­signed mor­tars to pro­pel grap­pling hooks, with ropes at­tached, to the top, or near the top, of the cliff. As they started climb­ing, the ca­su­alty toll con­tin­ued to mount rapidly.

With leg­endary bravery, the Rangers even­tu­ally se­cured Pointe du Hoc and knocked the big guns out of ac­tion. Less than 75 of the orig­i­nal 225 men were still fit for duty. Over 150 were ei­ther killed, wounded or miss­ing. A ter­ri­ble price had been paid, but the deadly guns of Pointe du Hoc were now in­ca­pable of show­er­ing the land­ing beaches with de­struc­tion. The Al­lied vic­tory on D-Day, and the ul­ti­mate lib­er­a­tion of a con­ti­nent, had been spear­headed by a small, but valiant, band of Amer­i­cans.

Rea­gan hon­ors Boys of Pointe du Hoc

Forty years later, on June 6, 1984, as part of the 40th an­niver­sary ob­ser­vances of D-Day, Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan would de­liver one of his most mem­o­rable speeches along the wind-swept crest of Pointe du Hoc. With many of the Ranger survivors in the au­di­ence, most by then well into their 60s, the Pres­i­dent re­mem­bered and hon­ored them and their gen­er­a­tion:

“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the cham­pi­ons who helped free a con­ti­nent. These are the heroes who helped end a war. ... Strength­ened by their courage, heart­ened by their valor, and borne by their mem­ory, let us con­tinue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.”

Re­mem­ber those young Amer­i­can boys at Pointe du Hoc and what they gave to pre­serve our free­dom ... 75 years ago.

“If we for­get what we did, we won’t know who we are,” Ronald Rea­gan.

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