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75th Anniversary of the End of WWII

75th Anniversary of the End of WWII

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FROM THE FORMER (1964-2020) COUNTY CHAIRMAN’S DESK

As I write this article on September 2, 2020, it is the 75th Anniversary of the official
end of WWII. I am certain there are hundreds of heroic stories that pay tribute to
those involved which I could write about. None were more dramatic though
than the story of the Second Ranger Battalion whose job was to scale the 10-
story high cliffs of the French Pointe du Hoc and destroy the massive German
155 mm cannons aimed right at the Normandy beaches where the American
soldiers were to land on D-Day June 6, 1944.

The Second Ranger Battalion was a very unique military group. That is why their
story is different than most. Allied Commanders chose Lt. Colonel Earl Rudder, a
native Texan, as the leader. He was a Texas A & M University graduate, who later
served as the President of the University. General Omar Bradley wrote about the
difficult task assigned to the Ranger Battalion: “No soldier in my command has
ever been wished a more difficult task than that which befell the 34 year-old
Commander of this Provisional Ranger Force.” A U.S. Intelligence Officer
described the task: “It can’t be done. Three old women with brooms could keep
the Rangers from climbing that cliff.” Not only did the Rangers have to be in
impeccable physical shape, they had to be smart, learn basic German
language and undergo grueling training.

Colonel Rudder personally interviewed many of the volunteers for this
dangerous mission. One of the candidates had suffered broken legs years ago
but “gutted out” the qualifying physical activity. When the physical exam
revealed that he wore false teeth, a disqualifying item, the candidate requested
a personal interview with Rudder. Rudder listened patiently and told the
candidate why he was being rejected. The soldier was quoted as replying: “Hell
sir, I don’t want to eat them, I want to fight them.” A 40 year-old physician
whose wife had convinced him not to join the paratroopers, then convinced her
that the Rangers had “something to do with trees” so he could become a
Ranger. There were remarkable physical specimens who could have become football players, as well as lean, muscular farm boys among those joining the
Rangers.

On D-Day, the 225 men in the Battalion landed on the beach below the Point
du Hoc Cliffs and plunged into 40 degree water under fire from the top of the
cliffs. Using propelled grappling hooks and ropes, they commenced climbing up
the cliffs. They endured withering fire from automatic weapons, as well as
explosions from hand grenades and mortars. But a fair number reached the
heights only to discover that the 155 mm cannons had been moved. In spite of
heavy casualties and a serious chest wound to one of their leaders, First
Sergeant Leonard Lomell, the Rangers found and rendered the cannons
unusable by placing thermite grenades down the barrels of the guns.

They regrouped and discovered that all of the radios were damaged and
unusable. Always prepared, several carrier pigeons had been provided just in
case of this mishap. The message that the cannons had been rendered
unusable was sent across the Channel to England with the good news via the
carrier pigeons. At first, the pigeons seemed confused because of all the fighting
below, but in short order headed for England. The regrouped Battalion set out
on their next objective, controlling the road leading to the cliffs. After
successfully completing their objectives on June 8th, they were relieved by fresh
reinforcements. By then, only 75 of the original 225 men and several carrier
pigeons remained fit for duty. One of those Battalion leaders chose to be
married on the second anniversary of D-Day.

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