Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion

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Overview

"These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war." --Ronald Reagan, June 6, 1984, Normandy, France Acclaimed historian and author of the New York Times bestselling Tour of Duty Douglas Brinkley tells the riveting account of the brave U.S. Army Rangers who stormed the coast of Normandy on D-Day and the President, forty years later, who paid them homage.The importance of Pointe du Hoc to Allied...
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Overview

"These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war." --Ronald Reagan, June 6, 1984, Normandy, France Acclaimed historian and author of the New York Times bestselling Tour of Duty Douglas Brinkley tells the riveting account of the brave U.S. Army Rangers who stormed the coast of Normandy on D-Day and the President, forty years later, who paid them homage.The importance of Pointe du Hoc to Allied planners like General Dwight Eisenhower cannot be overstated. The heavy U.S. and British warships poised in the English Channel had eighteen targets on their bombardment list for D-Day morning. The 100-foot promontory known as Pointe du Hoc -- where six big German guns were ensconced -- was number one. General Omar Bradley, in fact, called knocking out the Nazi defenses at the Pointe the toughest of any task assigned on June 6, 1944. Under the bulldoggish command of Colonel James E. Rudder of Texas, who is profiled here, these elite forces -- "Rudder's Rangers" -- took control of the fortified cliff. The liberation of Europe was under way. Based upon recently released documents from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the Eisenhower Center, Texas A & M University, and the U.S. Army Military History Institute, The Boys of Pointe du Hoc is the first in-depth, anecdotal remembrance of these fearless Army Rangers. With brilliant deftness, Brinkley moves between two events four decades apart to tell the dual story of the making of Reagan's two uplifting 1984 speeches, considered by many to be among the best orations the Great Communicator ever gave, and the actual heroic event, which was indelibly captured as well in the opening scenes of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Just as compellingly, Brinkley tells the story of how Lisa Zanatta Henn, the daughter of a D-Day veteran, forged a special friendship with President Reagan that changed public perceptions of World War II veterans forever. Two White House speechwriters -- Peggy Noonan and Tony Dolan -- emerge in the narrative as the master scribes whose ethereal prose helped Reagan become the spokesperson for the entire World War II generation.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
"Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes that helped end a war." For many observers, the words spoken on D-Day, 1984, by Ronald Reagan are among the memorable commemorations of our wartime heroes. Douglas Brinkley's The Boys of Point Du Hoc is the first in-depth account of the brave U.S. Army 2d Rangers whom Reagan helped immortalize. Once again, the author of Tour of Duty and Voices of Valor has come up with a tour de force.
Gil Troy
This short, charming, insightful book effectively interweaves the story of D-Day in the 1940s with the story of Reagan's presidency in the 1980s -- as well as Reagan's legacy. Brinkley chose his subject wisely and argues his case convincingly. If the D-Day anniversary was not quite the Reagan revolution's turning point, it surely was a useful intersection that epitomized what Brinkley calls Reagan's "penchant for historical symbolism" and embodied many of Reaganism's key themes. With chapters describing the invasion, "Reagan's Hollywood War," Peggy Noonan's speechwriting, "Reagan's Normandy Day" and the speech's aftermath, Brinkley offers enough perspectives on one moment to make a postmodernist swoon. Nevertheless, Brinkley remains focused, resonant and rooted in reality.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
On the 40th anniversary of D-Day, President Reagan chose the subtitle's battalion as a rhetorical peg on which to hang a commemoration of the entire U.S. war effort, a conceit that worked beautifully. Brinkley (Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War) begins with the story of the assault Reagan referred to, in which a single company of these elite troops scaled a hundred-foot Omaha Beach cliff to attack what was believed to be a German artillery battery capable of wrecking the landing. The guns were not there; German resistance was; more than half the Rangers were casualties. The narrative then leaps forward to Reagan's search for an appropriate 40th anniversary topic-the topic he chose rose out of his reverence for WWII combat veterans (his eyesight kept him in the U.S.)-and the speechwriting talents of Peggy Noonan. Finally, there is Reagan's fan mail, including a letter from the daughter of a Sergeant Zanetta, who was killed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. All of this is known, but Brinkley clearly and movingly tells the story of how a simple tribute became a milestone in the historiography of WWII and another feather in the great communicator's cap. Agent, Lisa Bankoff at ICM. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
If Ronald Reagan hadn't been president, no one would remember WWII. That is, writes prolific historian Brinkley (Rosa Parks, 2000, etc.), if it had not been for two speeches Reagan gave in Normandy on June 6, 1984, in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Allied landings, "there may never have been Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers, Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation, Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, or numerous memorials-like the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans-built to exalt the citizen soldiers who liberated Europe." The counterfactual tragedy that a whole publishing and filmmaking niche might never have been filled did not come to pass, thanks largely to the efforts of speechwriter Peggy Noonan (and, secondarily, Anthony Dolan), who gave Reagan his words on that historic day. (To his credit, writes Brinkley, Reagan worried that the French government's awarding him the Legion d'Honneur would give him military credentials that he did not have. To his discredit, Bitburg was just around the corner.) Brinkley tells two sometimes uneasily interlocking stories. The first is that of the Ranger unit that scaled a cliff and destroyed a Nazi artillery battery, then warded off a series of counterattacks; of the 225 members of the unit, Brinkley notes, "only 99 survived the amphibious assault." The second concerns Noonan's campaign to interview surviving members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion and craft memorable words for the president to commemorate the event, which she did with great care and to great effect. Tracing the lineage of the speech, Brinkley gives a special nod to Time columnist Lance Morrow, from whom Noonan borrowed heavily; it was he who evoked Shakespeare's"band of brothers" speech in Henry V, a notion that bore fruit in Steven Ambrose's book of that title published eight years later-and set off a fresh wave of interest in WWII and its aging veterans. Thus, concludes Brinkley, "The story of D-Day as the pervasive metaphor for American bravery and goodness . . . endures for the ages to ponder." He makes a solid case.
New Orleans Times-Picayune
“Compelling reading.”
Chicago Tribune
“Riveting.”
Bill O'Reilly
“The Boys of Pointe du Hoc are needed today.... An important and entertaining book.”
Chris Matthews
“Brinkley knows there is sometimes a theater to war and always to its remembrance.”
Doris Kearns Goodwin
“In this jewel of a book, Douglas Brinkley proves his skills as a master storyteller.”
Richard Norton Smith
“A gripping account of the Rangers who scaled Pointe du Hoc; and a bold, even brilliant treatment of Reaganesque stagecraft.”
Jon Meacham
“In this fascinating new study, Douglas Brinkley... sheds fresh light on the making of a crucial presidential moment.”
Walter Isaacson
“A powerful tale that celebrates, and explores, the patriotism and pride inspired by America’s brave soldiers.”
JoAnna McDonald
“Both the novice and D-Day historian will want to read The Boys of Pointe du Hoc.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060759346
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/31/2005
  • Edition description: Large Print Edition
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Meet the Author

Douglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University and a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. The Chicago Tribune has dubbed him "America's new past master." His most recent books are The Quiet World, The Wilderness Warrior, and The Great Deluge. Six of his books have been selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. He lives in Texas with his wife and three children.

Douglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University and a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. The Chicago Tribune has dubbed him "America's new past master." His most recent books are The Quiet World, The Wilderness Warrior, and The Great Deluge. Six of his books have been selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. He lives in Texas with his wife and three children.

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First Chapter

The Boys of Pointe du Hoc
Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion

Chapter One

Darby's Rangers

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 (1756–1763) 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.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2005

    Insightful

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2006

    Disappointing

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2006

    It was ok

    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

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2014

    I believe that those giving this book a poor review are not payi

    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.  

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  • Posted July 4, 2012

    To "Anonymous"/"Don't Buy this book", I read

    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.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2011

    Don't buy this book

    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.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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