The 100-foot promontory known as Pointe du Hoc where six big German guns were ensconced was the number one target of the heavy U.S. and British warships poised in the English Channel on D-Day morning. Facing arguably the toughest task to befall U.S. forces during the war, the brave men of the Army 2nd Ranger Battalion boldly took control of the fortified cliff and set in motion the liberation of Europe.
Based upon recently released documents, here is the first in-depth, anecdotal remembrance of these fearless Army Rangers. Acclaimed author and historian Douglas Brinkley deftly moves between events four decades apart to tell two riveting stories: the making of Ronald Reagan's historic 1984 speeches about the storming of the Normandy coast and the actual heroic event that inspired them and helped to end the Second World War.
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About the Author
Douglas Brinkley is the Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University, a CNN Presidential Historian, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. In the world of public history, he serves on boards, at museums, at colleges, and for historical societies. The Chicago Tribune dubbed him “America’s New Past Master.” The New-York Historical Society has chosen Brinkley as its official U.S. Presidential Historian. His recent book Cronkite won the Sperber Prize, while The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He was awarded a Grammy for Presidential Suite and is the recipient of seven honorary doctorates in American studies. His two-volume, annotated Nixon Tapes recently won the Arthur S. Link–Warren F. Kuehl Prize. He is a member of the Century Association, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the James Madison Council of the Library of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and three children.
Read an Excerpt
The Boys of Pointe du Hoc
Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion
As a movie actor, history buff, and unabashed nationalist, President Ronald Reagan, while he prepared for the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, was keenly aware of the sheer power the word "ranger" conjured in the American imagination, even if his facts about their early combat antics were -- as historian Garry Wills claims -- often of the Disneyland triumphalist variety. Ever since Jamestown was established by English settlers in 1607, "rainger" or "ranger" had become part of the New World vocabulary. Feeling vulnerable to attack by Native Americans, early colonists dispatched armed scouts to roam the wilderness and, if necessary, exterminate potential enemies before any Indians could wreak havoc on their Christian communities. The daily reports of these scouts often said something like "ranged twenty miles yesterday" or "too rainy to range far," so it didn't take long for the term "ranger" to stick. They were, in effect, wilderness patrolmen. They realized early on that European-style warfare was unsuitable to America's roiled terrain. Rangers, adjusting to topography, adopted the stealth tactics and nomadic ways of the various Indian tribes who freely roamed the eastern seaboard, and they aroused the hostility of the Native Americans inhabiting it. Such combat was almost the antithesis of European warfare, which at the time consisted of much maneuvering and very little fighting. "In the last decades of the seventeenth century rangers acting as quasimilitary units first appeared in Massachusetts and Virginia," historian Jerome Haggerty noted. "At that time combat in North America was influenced by the wilderness."
As soon as the French and Indian War (17561763) broke out, a Natty Bumppo-like New Hampshire backwoodsman named Robert Rogers, livid that Native American warriors constantly ambushed local forts and homesteads in hit-andrun raids, sought revenge. He signed up with the British Army to be a scout. Before long he received a commission as captain and organized a "ranger" team of a few dozen men trained for hand-to-hand combat against both the French and Indians. Officially they were the Ranger Company of the New Hampshire Provincial Regiment; a year later they had become His Majesty's Independent Company of American Rangers. Clad in distinctive green outfits, they eventually became known as Rogers' Rangers and soon attacked French fortifications along Lake Champlain and Lake George. Accordingly, Rogers was dubbed Wabi Madaondo, or white devil, by the Indians who crossed his path. He, in turn, said that Native Americans had "revengeful" dispositions in his 1765 book, A Concise Account of North America. "Throughout the French and Indian War, Rogers, and his Rangers, continued to wage unconventional warfare throughout the upper New York, lower Canadian, and even French West Indies regions," historian J. D. Lock wrote. "Following the war, there were periodical 'revivals' of Rogers' Rangers in support of British Operations until 1763 when they were 'paid off' for the first time."
The very notion of these rangers -- often with smeared war paint on their faces and waving sharp knives -- caused unmitigated fear among the various Native American tribes (particularly the Abenaki St. Francis Indians) warring against the British empire. Teaching his mobile recruits how to live off the land, Rogers often took advantage of subzero winter weather to catch his slumbering enemies off guard. By using specially made snowshoes, Rogers' Rangers could cross frozen rivers and lakes with bold ease, startling their unexpecting adversaries. Unusual for military men of the colonial era, these hardened rangers sought to unnerve their opponents by engaging in everything from blood-curdling yells to midnight attacks. Lightning-fast raids were their specialty. Decimating the enemy was all that mattered. Almost intuitively, Rogers' Rangers understood what, according to historian Robert W. Black, would become the modern-day mantra for the U.S. Army Rangers: "It is all in the heart and the mind."
During the American Revolution, Rogers volunteered to serve George Washington; the general refused his help, fearful he was a loyalist spy. Snubbed, Rogers abandoned the call for independence and instead organized a battalion of pro-British loyalist commandos known best as the Queen's Rangers. If Washington didn't trust him he would remain loyal to King George III. Back in Virginia, however, a new volunteer outfit, clad in coonskin caps and equipped with long rifles and hunting knives, took the fight to the Redcoats. Led by Captain Daniel Morgan, this ranger battalion did whatever chore was needed, from toggling across the swift currents of New York rivers to doing surveillance scouting in the pristine Virginia countryside. A great motivator of men, Morgan used a recruitment test that became legendary among Washington's Continental Army. He printed up numerous broadside illustrations of King George's robust head. To join his rangers you had to be able to shoot the British monarch in the face from 100 yards away, usually on the first try. Because of this hateful recruitment practice, Morgan was deemed a "war criminal" in London.The Boys of Pointe du Hoc
Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion. Copyright © by Douglas Brinkley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
What People are Saying About This
“In this fascinating new study, Douglas Brinkley... sheds fresh light on the making of a crucial presidential moment.”
“A powerful tale that celebrates, and explores, the patriotism and pride inspired by America’s brave soldiers.”
“A gripping account of the Rangers who scaled Pointe du Hoc; and a bold, even brilliant treatment of Reaganesque stagecraft.”
“In this jewel of a book, Douglas Brinkley proves his skills as a master storyteller.”
“The Boys of Pointe du Hoc are needed today.... An important and entertaining book.”
“Both the novice and D-Day historian will want to read The Boys of Pointe du Hoc.”
“Brinkley knows there is sometimes a theater to war and always to its remembrance.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed reading the book. My parent's generation is just the best. They were so tuned to the true values of living life. I remember when Reagan gave the speech at Point Du Hoc, but I was not totally up to speed on the circumstances of the battle. Boy, put the speech and circumstances together and it makes for a dynamite read.
Not enough in this book about the D-Day invasion and the exploits of the U.S. Army Rangers during and after June 6, 1944. Quick start and then it went flat for me. I lost interest with all the details about the writing of Reagan's speeches for the June 1984 anniversaries at Normandy. I was expecting more Ambrose style writing but it just never materialized.
I was hoping for a little more detail on the rangers. The author wrote a little too much about the speech writers for Regan and not enough about the men who climbed the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc. I'll stick to Stephen Ambrose books for WWII soldier stories. The authors book RISE TO GLOBALISM is excellent, maybe the title was just misleading on this book
So, I purchased this book thinking it was going to be about the actual action at Point du Hoc, but instead got a sentimental political account comparing the attitude of the 2nd Ranger Battalion's men to the politics of Ronald Reagan. Not that I don't agree and admire, it was just a bit of a disappointment. I have been to the site and have yet to find an accurate account of the action even though this battle is covered in all the major books on Normandy and featured in the Longest Day. A optional read at best.
I believe that those giving this book a poor review are not paying that much attention to the title. If they would have, they wouldn't have been disappointed. It's pretty apparent to me that the speech was going to take center role. The title is from the speech. The first thing mentioned in the subtitle is Ronald Reagan. So yes, pay attention to the title and you will not be disappointed. It tells us the story of D-Day as a set-up for the speech. It only touches on what occurred.. This brief book nails it.
To "Anonymous"/"Don't Buy this book", I read a book called FIRST MEN IN by Ed Ruggero and is about the 82nd AB dropping into Sicily. One of the participants of the drop read THE LONGEST DAY and told Mr. Ryan that the incident that Ryan wrote about didn't happen that way. Ryan told him that it made for a better story. I will not ever read a Cornelius Ryan book. It's been a few years since I read the Ruggero book, but I believe that it was a footnote that Ruggero mentioned this. BTW, Reagan was a 2 term governor of California and the President of the Screen Actors Guild and was a Democrat until he was disgusted by his fellow actors and their Communist leanings. Look up some of his speeches from the early 60's. he wasn't just an actor. Had to give one star because I haven't read it...yet.
As the other reviewers stated, Mr. Brinkley spends too little time on the D-Day invasion and too much about Reagan. And the fact the Mr. Brinkley flatly disparages Cornelius Ryan for his book The Longest Day is totally unacceptable. Mr. Ryan wrote historically accurate books with detail and vision. Mr. Brinkley's book is muddled, out of sequence and too concerned with a President that had no role in WWII. If you want to learn more about June 6, 1944, look for other better written books that write about the day, not about an actor President.