The Boys of Pointe du Hoc by Douglas Brinkley (2005)
by Judith Stanford Miller, M.Ed., M.A.
Almost lost to history because of an erroneous depiction in The Longest Day, a movie about D-Day that premiered in 1962, the accurate story of the D-Day assault by Army Rangers at Pointe du Hoc near Omaha Beach along the Normandy coast was finally told by Douglas Brinkley in his 2005 book, The Boys of Pointe du Hoc.
The 1962 movie depicts the assault as a failure because once the Rangers scaled the 100-foot cliff, instead of immediately finding the powerful German machine guns they were to disable, the Rangers found empty holes with wooden decoys. But the story doesn’t end there. It took years to piece together what really happened at Pointe du Hoc. In his book, Brinkley credits Ron Drez, historian and Vietnam veteran who has interviewed hundreds of WWII veterans, with helping to find the facts about the assault through conducting interviews with D-Day Rangers and researching military reports. Together with Brinkley’s extensive research, the assault should be considered nothing less than a total success.
Brinkley tells the story of the Pointe du Hoc assault within the context of President Reagan’s speech at the fortieth anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 1984. No American president had traveled to Normandy to honor a D-Day anniversary before President Reagan chose to do so in 1984. Reagan gave two speeches on the anniversary – one in front of the Pointe du Hoc Monument and one from the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. There are 9,380 American soldiers buried there. This cemetery on foreign soil is one of many administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC).
Reagan was a World War II veteran although he never deployed overseas. Already a movie star, his talents were used to make movies for the Army to help train soldiers and to sell war bonds to the public. Reagan greatly admired British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for his leadership during the war and the confidence he instilled in the British people not to capitulate to Adolf Hitler.
After World War II and the Soviet Union, a former ally, sought to spread communism around the world, Reagan decided to enter politics. He was elected governor of California in 1967 and re-elected to a second term in 1971. He left office in 1975 and then secured the Republican nomination for president in 1980. He won the 1980 presidential election becoming the nation’s 40th president.
As the fortieth anniversary of D-Day approached, he needed two speeches to deliver on June 6, 1984. The first speech was to be remarks at the Pointe du Hoc monument where Army Rangers who scaled the cliffs on D-Day would be sitting in the front rows. The second speech at Omaha Beach was considered the more important because he was to announce policy initiatives.
Peggy Noonan, a young, newly hired speechwriter at the White House, was assigned to write the Pointe du Hoc remarks. After she realized Army Rangers would be present, she wrote a speech that Reagan delivered with such heartfelt sincerity that it has become one of his most famous speeches. It renewed interest in the World War II generation that continues unabated to this day.
Brinkley’s well researched book offers details of the Pointe du Hoc assault. Even though the German machine guns were not at the top of the cliff, two Rangers located the guns inland, a testament to their training and moxie. They disabled five guns while a group of German soldiers gathered 100 yards away. The Germans did not believe the Americans would ever try to scale the cliffs and the inclement weather around D-Day convinced the Germans the Allies would not launch an invasion until the weather cleared. With both miscalculations, D-Day maintained an element of surprise, a key factor in its ultimate success.
President Ronald Reagan’s Address at a Ceremony Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings in Pointe du Hoc, Normandy, France, June 6, 1984 (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)
Peggy Noonan was a young speechwriter recently hired by the White House in spring 1984 when she was assigned to write “remarks” President Reagan would deliver at the Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument. With D-Day Army Ranger veterans sitting in the front rows, the powerful “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” speech became one of the most famous speeches of Reagan’s two terms.
Editor’s Note: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc is one of two anchor books in the “People of D-Day Resource Trunk” by Student News Net. For more information, click on the “Resource Trunk” tab at the top of the page.
For more information about military cemeteries, home and abroad, visit the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC).
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