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

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

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

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

by Douglas Brinkley


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060565305
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 05/23/2006
Edition description: REPRINT
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 48,258
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.65(d)

About the Author

Douglas Brinkley is the Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University, presidential historian for the New-York Historical Society, trustee of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. The Chicago Tribune dubbed him “America’s New Past Master.” He is the recipient of such distinguished environmental leadership prizes as the Frances K. Hutchison Medal (Garden Club of America), the Robin W. Winks Award for Enhancing Public Understanding of National Parks (National Parks Conservation Association), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lifetime Heritage Award. His book 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 won the Arthur S. Link–Warren F. Kuehl Prize. 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

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.

What People are Saying About This

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.”

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.”

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.”

JoAnna McDonald

“Both the novice and D-Day historian will want to read The Boys of Pointe du Hoc.”

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