NEW Story: Point du Hoc, by Tommy Batboy

Updated: April 14, 2009


Standing on the Cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc


Tommy Batboy

One of the first books I remember reading as a child was from a series of books on World War II. I was seven or eight and I picked the book because even as a child war fascinated me, and the title was simple: D-Day. Twenty years later, as I got out of the Eurovan in a recently paved asphalt parking lot, I thought of that book again for some reason.

“Just down that path and to the right are the cliffs, I’ll be waiting here for you,” my driver told me.

“Thank you,” I said a little nervously. After years of wanting to see it, after all the stories my old squad leader had told me, all the reading, and the privilege of talking to some of the battles survivors; I was about to go stand on the cliffs of Point Du Hoc.

If you where a Private in the 75th Ranger Regiment, you grew up knowing about Point Du Hoc. If you were a private in 2nd Ranger Battalion you learned it the way Catholic grammar school children learn the Bible. On D-day the men of 2nd Ranger Battalion drew one the hardest missions of the invasion: Scale the sheer and unprotected cliff faces of Point Du Hoc to destroy the captured French 155mm artillery pieces – the big guns that could rain hell on both the Omaha and Utah landing beaches – the guns that could jeopardize the success or failure of the Normandy landings. The mission was equally impossible and critical and its success hinged on Colonel James Rudder’s 225 men. They were equipped with ladders borrowed from the London fire department and ropes with grappling hooks.

Tommy Batboy at Point Du Hoc

Tommy Batboy at Point Du Hoc

The mission started poorly. The land craft got mixed up and the Germans spotted the Americans on their way to the cliffs. When they got there, they had to scale the cliffs under heavy fire. The Germans were putting grenades in mason jars before dropping them, using the glass to increase shrapnel and lethality. Firing straight down at the men at the base of the cliffs as they climbed proved incredibly lethal. 225 men started; by the end of the two-day mission only 90 were fit to fight.

In the time that it took me to walk 150 meters, I’d be standing where these proud and brave men had fought, and where many of them had died. An eerie feeling of the past settled over me. I started to walk down the path and towards the cliffs. Rounding the corner and coming face to face with the bunker complex was surreal. Unlike many of the battlefields of World War II that have been paved over or converted to tourist traps, the French government has left Point Du Hoc unchanged. 65 years later there are still 5 foot or deeper gouges in the Earth where American Naval fire or German counter battery fell. Even with all the effects from the rain and wind and weather, sixty-five years later the Earth still looks horribly scarred from the events of that day. If you stare closely you can see where American and German rifle fire chipped away at the reinforced concrete on some of the bunkers. Written in rusty, twisted rebar, cold crumbling concrete and a cratered surface similar to that of the moon, you can see the ugliness of what D-day was for those brave men.

A ringing cry shook me from my daze, turning to my left I saw a group of French teenagers, who appeared to be on a field trip, running up one side of a shell crater and out the other, playing grab ass in hopes of impressing the girls that were along on the tour.

I got very angry for a second. Remembering how The Weid, my first squad leader in 2nd Battalion, took our squad through the battle on a dry

The Barbed wire and concertina wire still sit at Point du Hoc.

The Barbed wire and concertina wire still sit at Point du Hoc.

erase board in the squad room. I remember him explaining that once the Rangers made it up the cliffs they found nothing but logs where the guns should be. The German Army, fearing Allied aerial bombing had moved the guns in-land. Even despite the bad and the rapidly mounting German counter attack the men of 2nd Battalion still fought on, found the guns a mile and a half inland, and completed the mission. I started thinking about meeting two of the men who’d climbed the cliff when I was at the Ranger Hall of Fame Ceremony in 2004, hearing one tell us about watching his friends get shot off the ropes as they climbed – telling us there was nothing to do but to just keep climbing. I was amazed at the matter-of-fact way he said it, and wondered if I could have been half as brave if it had been me on that rope going up the cliffs. The area is listed as a graveyard on the French registry, to see kids disrespect it like that was not an easy pill to swallow.

A deep breath later I started to move towards the cliff faces themselves. Fifteen feet or so from the cliffs there is a fence with signs written in both French and English telling you to stay back for your safety. “They didn’t serve in 2nd Bat,” I told my friend as I hopped right over the fence and marched towards the barbed wire ringing the cliff face, undoubtedly meant to keep people like me from getting right up on the edge. I walked right up the to wire, found a spot that got me just a couple of inches closer and leaned.

“Oh my God,” I muttered, watching the waves crash against the base of the cliffs below me. There is nothing, nothing to protect a man as he climbed. It is as sheer and steep a cliff face as I’ve ever seen. To say these men had no protection but the covering fire from the landing craft is a gross understatement. The moment I looked down I understood why so many men died in training on the Isle of Wright.

I understood even more deeply than I had before why the 6th stanza of the Ranger Creed is “Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor. Ranger’s lead the way!” Through all the adversity, all the hell, through the rifle fire and the grenades, the glass and, even the heavy boulders thrown their way; the men of the 2nd Ranger Battalion climbed. They knew that their buddies were dying and were scared that they might be next, but still they climbed – hoping at least one of them would make it to the top to complete the mission.

Never in my life have I felt so humbled as I did in that moment.

Still standing concrete bunker at Point du Hoc

Still standing concrete bunker at Point du Hoc

After taking some pictures and walking around I climbed back over the fence. I walked through the bunkers. I walked around and in the craters. Feeling the chilly, brisk early spring breeze on my face, I stared out into the English Channel, dreary and gray with low clouds that reduced visibility. I wondered what it must have been like to ride in those landing craft, pondering just how much the men that had ridden in them knew. I marveled at the bravery and strength of character a man must possess to take that ride. I wondered what Colonel Rudder would say about my generation of Rangers, and hoped that he’d think we were living up to the standards his men had set on this spot. Standing on the cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc I said a silent prayer of thanks for the sacrifices of Col. Rudder and his men.

“What time is it?” My friend asked me quietly.

“It’s time to go,” I said, checking my watch and turning back towards the path that led to the parking lot.

We walked slowly back towards the van as I looked around the top of the cliff and then back into the English Channel. I was thoroughly humbled by the courage of conviction it must have taken my forefathers to take in the same view on that fateful day in June so many years ago.





  1. Hendo

    April 15, 2009 at 8:33 am

    I too have had the honor of visiting Point du Hoc, and words cannot describe what an experience it is to stand there on top of those cliffs. Great story!!

  2. Tony Lindskog

    April 16, 2009 at 2:00 am

    I have never been to Point du Hoc but I hope to some day; thanks for the vivid story, it was a great read!

    Did you just go there (since you mentioned the cold of spring) or is this from a while back?

  3. SatinPatriot

    April 22, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Wow, Tom. Thanks for sharing that. I’m glad you had a good trip, and I’m glad you’re back home. 🙂

  4. LoneStarInfantry

    May 7, 2009 at 12:16 am

    Great Article, thanks for writing about this too little known feat of raw courage. My pride will not let me finish without mentioning that Colonel Rudder was a Fightin’ Texas Aggie and is perhaps our school’s greatest and most celebrated heroes.


    May 19, 2009 at 10:14 am


  6. john conville

    May 24, 2009 at 12:41 am

    Some time ago, I read an article written by Walter Cronkite, the famous reporter for CBS. He was on the verge of retiring and one of his last assignments was to follow President Ronald Reagan on his trip to England and France. Being a liberal, he was not fond of Reagan. In England, Reagan met with the Queen and assorted officials. But in going to France, Reagan blew off the French officials and went instead to Normandy Beach for a celebration of the invasion. French officials had planned to unveil a monument to the Normandy invasion. Perhaps by prearrangement or not, Reagan spoke at the ceremony and in the front row were some of the boys who climbed that hill. Walter Cronkite wrote that he had tears in his eyes, after Reagan’s moving speech about the boys of point du Hoc. These men excelled on a day, where many were excelled in their commitment to county. God Bless the USA.

  7. Q-tizzle

    May 29, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Reading this article. It reminded me of how my team leaders in 2nd Batt embedded the events of Point Du Hoc into on heads. If one of the my fellow private buddies didn’t what companies that were involved. We’d ALL suffer.

    This has really inspired me to one day visit Point Du Hoc. Like other veterans who visit the land they once fought on. Maybe,one day I’ll go back and visit the same places in Iraq/Afghan.

    2/75 RGR


  8. dfp21

    June 3, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Kids running and playing in a war memorial is a perfect tribute to those who sacrificed so much. From heaven they see proof that with their own lives they purchased some happiness and freedom for future generations.

  9. drifter

    June 9, 2009 at 12:39 am

    Good article from a former comrade.
    1B SeaBass

  10. philippe

    June 9, 2009 at 3:51 am

    The correct spelling is Pointe du Hoc.

  11. Marie Lawson

    June 9, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    My dad was there on 6 june 1944. 6 weeks shy of his 19th birthday. He was one of the few Rangers still able to carry on at the end of the day, no wounds. He served in uniform for another 28 years, combat in Korea, Viet Nam, and some dirty little actions not generally known by the public. He trained Green Berets before they went to Viet Nam. He always said that 6 June was the finest day of his life, and they were the finest men he ever served with. When we buried him at Ft Sam Houston in 1999 he was wearing a 2nd Ranger Bn. teeshirt that I had given him years before, and held both of his Ranger patches in his hands. I was fortunate enough to grow up with this exceptional man as my dad, and he would be pleased to know that they are remembered by today’s Rangers, and honored. Rangers really do lead the way you know. Thank you from a proud and grateful daughter that misses her Ranger every damn day, and especially in June. Marie D. Lawson

  12. Jerry Bishop

    June 12, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    I stood up there…same place…three weeks ago. Took my daughter..21 … to see what I’ve also considered one of the most important places in 20th Century History. When I told her what all those “holes” were in the ground around us, her eyes went WAY wide..

    I wasn’t ready for it….didn’t realise they’d left it as it was that day, minus unexploded ordinance which was swept out and plus a few paths and some scaffolding to tour the site. It’s deeply disturbing and moving…I mean that in the most profound way possible….you feel the intensity, 65 years later and can’t help but stop and say thanks. I knew the story and told her about it….we left feeling incredibly greatful for the sacrifice of that horrible day. I have loved the rangers since the first time I heard about this place…and always will.

    After visiting Point Du Hoc and St Laurent, I know without question (did before but something nevertheless changed and grew)…that Goering’s comment at Nueremberg was garbage…about the winners hanging the losers. The Sacrifice of all those men…was right. They did it willingly because it was necessary.

    Thank you all who were there…or who lost family…or contributed in any way. Thank you.

  13. Bud Rudder

    June 21, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Well said, Tommy Batboy. Well said comments too. The Rangers on that day set the high water mark for generations of soldiers to come. My Dad was one of them that day. He never talked a lot of D-Day unless he was among his pals at one of the many Ranger Reunions he was part of until his death 39 years ago. It is an especially warm comfort this Father’s Day to read how well remembered all those men are today. This coming Spring, A&M Press (http://www.tamu.edu/upress/) will be publishing a biography of Col. Rudder. It will detail the life of this American legend from his early days in Eden, Texas, to his coaching days, to the trials of WW2, to his later successes and each step along the way tell of those experiences that shaped his life. I know of this because he was my Dad. I miss him so. Rangers Lead The Way – James Earl Rudder Jr.

    • Jeff

      May 2, 2012 at 2:54 pm

      Dear James,

      It’s not only fellow Rangers that commemorate the sacrifices made on D-Day. I’m Dutch and this year i will travel for the 9th time to Normandy to pay my respects.

      And on the 6th of june we start at Dog Green, Vierville sur Mer, 05.30, then we go to Colleville American Cemetery at about 07.00 and then on to Pointe du Hoc to pay our respects and say a heartfelt thank you to all those brave souls who gave everything so we Europeans can live in freedom today.

      Many people in Europe remember and are thankful for the sacrifices made for our freedom.

      Much, much respect for your dad and all the brave men with him on that fateful day in history, you must be an extremely proud son!!


      Jeffrey from The Netherlands

  14. john conville

    September 12, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    They were our best and will always be in my memory.

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