“Two kinds of people are staying on this beach,” the commander of the 1st Division’s 16th Infantry Regiment, Col. George A. Taylor, exclaimed to his men on D-Day, “the dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here.” Those words from COL Taylor described the dire necessity of getting off Omaha beach and inland as fast as possible on June 6, 1944.
69 years ago today, the 2nd Ranger battalion, under the command of LTC James Rudder, scaled the heights of Pointe du Hoc in order to destroy the German long range artillery that sat at the top of the cliff. Small arms, machine gun fire and grenades rained down on the men as they gritted their way up the 100 foot cliff using rope ladders, resulting in an inordinate number of unit members dying as a result of enemy fire. Ten minutes later the first Rangers had scaled the rocky walls and made it to the top.
Once on top, close combat ensued. Americans fighting Germans at arms length with small arms, knives and hand to hand combat. At that point the Rangers came under fire from horizontal anti-aircraft guns and 88mm mortar fire. Unbeknownst to most Rangers, the long range German artillery they were sent to destroy had been moved further inland in the weeks before D-Day – meaning their mission had changed into neutralizing and terminating German resistance in the form of machine gun bunkers and other weapons like the anti-aircraft guns which were now being used to mow down Rangers.
Of the the 225 Rangers who attacked Pointe du Hoc on D-Day, only 90 were left standing two days later on D+2. Eighty-one had been killed in action, the rest of the casualties were unable to fight. Many of the 90 left standing were lightly wounded and still ready for combat. Boys who scaled a cliff and ended up on top as men, risking everything to blow up some pieces of artillery.
President Reagan asked why the Rangers would do it, and surmised that faith, belief, loyalty and love were responsible for the actions of these heroes. Why would a man scale a cliff over 100 feet high while being shot at? The answer lies in the hearts of warriors…or as Reagan said, we know it when we look at you…America’s worth fighting for.
Today, 69 years after D-Day, Americans are tempered by several more decades of war, several more generations of warriors, – it’s fitting that we remember Reagan’s observance of the “profound moral difference,” between fighting for liberation versus conquering. America’s warriors stand on the shoulders of these giants, all those who have come before us – just as the greatest generation fought to liberate the people of Germany and Japan, my generation fought to liberate the people of Iraq and Afghanistan from the bonds of another sinister form of tyranny.