|A SELECTION OF THE MILITARY, HISTORY, AND BOOK-OF-THE-MONTH CLUBS|
An epic World War II story of valor, sacrifice, and the Rangers who led the way to victory in Europe
by Patrick O'Donnell
Paperback / $15.99/ $19.50 (CAN)
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|An excerpt from dog company: Chapter 13 — The Climb|
As the men of Dog dashed toward the cliff, MG-42 machine-gun bullets kicked up the gravel around them. “I thought I was kicking up pebbles and dirt. But they were actually bullets that were hitting the sand and kicking up the dirt around me,” Sheldon Bare explained.
Months of training kicked into gear. The men ran like rabbits towards the base of the cliff and began to climb. Several Rangers returned fire as they rushed towards the ropes, but the German defenders took their toll as more and more Rangers went down.
When Dog started climbing, Bare fired at the Germans; but as the men neared the top, he ceased fire. “I stopped firing because I didn’t want to hit our men on top of the cliff,” recalled Bare.
Then it was Bare’s turn to make the hazardous climb. “The ropes were slippery, and the Germans were cutting them.Some dropped grenades,” he remembered.
“Further to my left, I saw the grappling hooks that the Americans fired to the top of the cliff. But one of the artilleryman crawled forward and cut the rope,” recalled Kirchhoff, the German Werfer-Regiment private. “The Americans were unable to climb up. They remained on the beach but kept trying.”
Some of the men, like Sigurd Sundby from Dog Company, struggled with the ascent. “The rope was wet and kind of muddy; my hands just couldn’t hold. They were like grease, and I came sliding back down. I wrapped my foot around the rope and slowed myself up as much as I could, but my hands still burned.”
As Sundby slid back down the rope, he landed near another Ranger. “What’s the matter, Sundby, you chicken? Let me—I’ll show you how to climb.”
Bill Hoffman described the confusion, “I was assigned a specific rope [and] to a specific gun. I was supposed to do some specific damage. I had a big stick of C-2 in my pocket. I just grabbed a rope, and somebody yelled ‘Hey, Hey, that’s mine.’ They were firing down at us and throwing down potato masher grenades, and they also cut some ropes. I don’t really know how we got up the cliff.”
As the 225 Rangers from Assault Force A crowded the tiny beach, machine guns, grenades, and small arms fire peppered the men. Making the climb even more perilous, the Germans had also booby-trapped the cliff face with “roller mines.” Precursors to the IEDs of today, roller mines were old French artillery shells suspended on wires. Cutting the wires would detonate the shells. Accounts suggest that the Germans detonated one shell, causing a landslide near Easy Company climbers.
Lomell soon realized the ropes his boat had fired at the cliff weren’t allowing the men to climb fast enough. He ordered the Rangers to assemble the four-foot metal sections of ladder they carried to assist with the climb. With the ladders in place, Lomell concentrated all of his energies on climbing. Adrenaline coursed through his body, allowing him to ignore the searing pain from the gunshot wound in his side. Exhausted, Lomell’s muscles strained to carry him upward.
Climbing next to the first sergeant was 2nd Platoon’s radio operator, Sergeant Robert Fruhling. Interspersed with the din of battle, Lomell could hear the ominous sound of crumbling rock as the face of the cliff gave way with each foothold. Running out of strength from making the treacherous hand-over-hand ascent while avoiding enemy fire, Lomell clung to the wet rope, despite the gunshot wound to his side. Straining to lift his body the last few feet, he finally crested Pointe du Hoc.
The incessant fire from the MG-42s rained down on the men. From the top of the cliff, Lomell looked down and spotted Fruhling, who was now near the summit, but barely hanging on. Fruhling cried out for help.
Unable to reach the radioman, Lomell provided covering fire from his Thompson and shouted, “Hold on. I can’t help you!” Lomell then spotted Sergeant Leonard Rubin, an “excellent athlete with a powerful build,” and called out, asking him to help the struggling Ranger. Just as Fruhling was slipping down the rope, Rubin grabbed him by the nape of his neck and, with a mighty swing, hoisted him over the top of the Pointe.
Cries of dying and wounded men sounded up and down the beach. Ranger medic Frank South struggled to answer each call. South carried on his back what amounted to an aid station, complete with plasma, bandages, and other first aid supplies.
A machine gun nest on top of the cliff had a “superb enfilading position,” South noted, “We were caught in its field of fire.”
South scrambled to assist his fellow Rangers. Dodging the machine gun fire from the cliff, he reached one Ranger with a sucking chest wound and dragged him towards an indentation in the cliff face where it met the beach. There he began to treat the man. Moving as quickly as he could, the medic was soon joined by the battalion surgeon Doc Block.
As Block looked up from treating one of the wounded Rangers, he saw one of Fox Company’s strongest climbers, Sergeant L-Rod Petty, scaling the cliff above him. Each boat had two or three excellent climbers or “top monkeys.” But at that moment, the waterlogged rope was getting the best of Petty. As he slid back down, a nearby Ranger joked, “Hey, L-Rod, you’re going the wrong way!”
Petty landed a few feet from Doc Block. As Petty looked over towards Block, the surgeon ordered, “Soldier, get up that rope to the top of that cliff! It’s up you’re supposed to go.”
“Pissed off” Petty acidly snorted, “Go to hell, Captain! What’s it look like I’m trying to do?”
Petty scrambled back up the rope. Nearby, his close friend and “pet ape” from F Company, Herm Stein, struggled to make his way up the slick line. Suddenly, Stein felt as if the rock itself was pushing him away from the rope. Stein looked down and realized that his “Mae West,” or life vest, had inflated. Tearing it off, he continued to hoist himself up the slimy rope.
THUD! Small arms fire had just hit the Ranger in front of him. Yelling down, Stein barked, “Cole’s been hit! Hit the dirt!” so the men climbing below him would stay low when they reached the top of the cliff.
Throughout the carnage, they stayed focused on the mission and most of the men in Force A made it to the top. . When one man fell, another took his place. By 7:20 A.M., nearly all of the twenty-two men in Lomell’s boat successfully scaled the cliff. Sniper, machine gun, and 37 mm antiaircraft fire ripped through the air. Lomell thought to himself, “God damn it, we made it this far; we will beat them! We’re in their land. We’re gonna regroup here.”
As they had been trained to do, small groups of men now set out to complete their mission: find the guns of Pointe du Hoc and destroy them.
|Copyright © Patrick
Patrick K. O'Donnell is published by Da Capo Press, a Member of The Perseus Books Group