WASHINGTON, May 30th
Mr. Speaker, it was raining as the English Channel churned and tossed the Americans in the landing craft. The sun was coming up over the horizon, but no one could see it through the grey clouds. Thousands of teenage liberators stared into the distance to see the high cliffs of Normandy, France. It was D-Day, June 6, 1944 - 70 years ago.
Expecting to land on Omaha Beach at 6:30 am ahead of other Allied Forces, Texan Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder led the United States Army Rangers’ 2nd Ranger Battalion into what seemed like an impossible feat.
As the treacherous weather conjured crashing waves five to six feet tall, a shifting wind tossed the Rangers off course. The mist, clouds and smoke obscured the navigation, making it hard to locate Pointe-du-Hoc from a mile out at sea. Their landing was delayed by forty minutes. Already, the mission seemed doomed. This navigational error meant two things: They would have to sail parallel to the coast facing intense enemy fire. It gave the enemy time to recover and prepare for the next assault.
For almost half an hour, the Rangers rode along the coast as bullets were flying all around them. Some Rangers were hit by enemy fire. But bleeding or not, still they pushed forward.
They battled the wind as the pelting rain blurred their vision and soaked their climbing equipment. They were exhausted and tense. The landing crafts that brought the GIs to shore were beginning to take on water, presenting yet another obstacle for Rudder’s Rangers. Water began to leak in through the front ramp of the landing crafts, so the Rangers ripped up the floorboards and used their helmets to bail out the alarming amount of water rushing in all while the Nazis fired down at them atop the cliffs.
One of the landing crafts sunk from the weather and enemy fire. The brutal conditions of the sea caused others in the landing craft to become violently seasick. Finally, the Rangers reached the eastern side of the Pointe, there new designated landing spot. It was now 7:10 am. The battle had just begun, and the odds were stacking up against Rudder’s success.
The Rangers were miserable, cold, wet and seasick; some bleeding from injury but none wavered. Their mission: to conquer the cliffs at Pointe-du-Hoc and find the big Germans’ guns. The guns could reap havoc on later landings.
No longer was the weather their only enemy. As the first shoe print was made in the wet sand of Normandy, the Rangers came under brutal fire from atop the cliffs as the enemy chunked grenades down at them. The men had to resist the urge to take out the machine guns because the primary mission was to climb. Fifteen men were already lost in the crossing of the beach.
Divided into three units, Lt. Col. Rudder prepared to lead the Provisional Rangers, task force A of 250 men up the cliffs. They moved quickly with precision and expertise. They shifted through the chaos that ensued around them all while operating soaking wet equipment.
(The ropes attached to the grappling hooks were heavy with water and thus could not reach the top of the cliffs when launched from a mortar.)
The Rangers used rope ladders, a few dry grappling hooks and steel ladders to scale the cliffs. Their machine guns were clogged with mud. Amidst enemy fire and malfunctioning equipment, the Rangers were flung back and forth climbing the wet ropes.
While some Rangers provided cover on the beach, amazingly, the first ones to the top, conquered the cliff in 10 minutes. They in turn provided covering fire for the ones still on the beach.
As soon as the Rangers pulled themselves over the cliff, snipers immediately fired. Fortunately, the heaving bombing the Americans had done to the island in the days beforehand had created large craters in earth. This allowed the Rangers to hide themselves from the enemy fire.
Within half an hour, the remaining task forces had made it up the tall cliffs.
Rudder, bleeding from two gunshot wounds, never let his focus waver or his determination grow weary. He discovered quickly that the Germans had left wooden decoys in the gun casements. Exhausted, wounded and bewildered, Rudder kept pushing the Rangers inland. They had to find the big guns. Around 8:00 am small patrols were sent south to locate the missing guns. By 9:00 am, their second goal completed. Now, they had to take them out.
The Rangers had located the missing guns 600 yards south of the Pointe. The Nazis had hidden the guns back from the beach to protect them from Allied air strikes and naval bombardment.
Rudders’ Rangers took out the emplacements using thermite grenades and eliminated the enemy protecting them.
The mission though completed in spite of the horrific obstacles was not without cost. Rudder’s Rangers had over 50 percent casualties. Some Rangers gave their lives that summer morning conquering the cliffs.
As American blood was shed on the French beaches and cliffs, General Rudder had secured the beachhead for later Allied Forces coming ashore. This paved the way to eventual victory.
In the months leading up to the Normandy Invasion, Rudder’s elite group of Army Rangers underwent rigorous training in preparation for the part that they would play for the invasion named Overlord at Normandy.
Colonel Rudder put his 2nd Ranger Battalion through hell in order to prepare them for their mission at Pointe du Hoc. He made them march in full gear for over 20 miles. He had them train in hand to hand combat, climb rope ladders without safety harnesses and endure difficult amphibious training.
The success that the Rangers had on D-Day was a direct result of Rudder’s intense personal involvement with their training. The amount of effort and dedication he put forth into the training is why the troops were able to manage the chaos and complete their mission. Rudder made sure that every man was prepared to do the impossible.
James Earl Rudder was born in the small Texas town of Eden, about 45 miles southeast of San Angelo, in 1910. After graduating from high school, he played football for two years at Tarleton State. He then transferred to Texas A&M in 1930. He graduated in 1932 with a degree in education. After graduation he joined the US Army Reserves as a second lieutenant.
In 1937, he married Margaret Williamson (who graduated from the University of Texas), and together they had five children. In 1941, he was doing what he loved, coaching football, when duty called.
These brave men who cracked the Nazi grip on Europe began with the liberation of France 70 years ago. From there, the Rangers went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge and U.S. forces on to Germany. Nothing like it had ever been done before in history. Over 150,000 Allied soldiers hit the beaches during the assault landings on the 6th of June.
By the 4th of July, over 1 million joined in the invasion force through Normandy. It was a miraculous feat for 1944.
Colonel Rudder received many military honors including the second highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross. He was a full Colonel by the end of the war and was promoted to Brigadier General of the U.S. Army Reserves in 1954 and Major General in 1957.
After the war, Rudder returned to Texas. He remained a highly successful and distinguished Texan until his death.
He served as Mayor of Brady for 6 years, visited the White House frequently- advising Lyndon Baines Johnson on many military issues and was hired to clean up the corruption going on in the General Land Office.
Col. Rudder became president of Texas A&M University in 1959 and president of the entire A&M system in 1965, holding both positions until his death in 1970.
The boys of D –Day came; they liberated; and some went home. Over 9,000 other GIs are buried at the top of the cliffs of Normandy France. As we reflect on those Rangers on D-Day, 70 years ago, and the Texan who led them into battle, Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder, we once again marvel at the lives of those we call the Greatest Generation of Americans.
And that’s just the way it is.