The Boys of Pointe Du Hoc by Douglas Brinkley

When I first glanced at the title of Douglas Brinkley’s newest book, The Boys of Pointe Du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion, I wondered what Ronald Reagan had in common with the other two. I soon realized what they had in common -Reagan’s 1984 speech at Pointe De Hoc (came to be known as the “Boys of Pointe Du Hoc”) honoring the 2nd Ranger Battalion.

The book is an interesting look at the relationship between the Reagan speech and the D-Day experiences of the 2nd Ranger Battalion – ordered to eliminate the German artillery that guarded the Utah and Omaha beaches.

As a whole, Brinkley gives an excellent description of the formation, training, and combat experiences of those men who scaled Pointe Du Hoc. Brinkley focuses on how the Rangers came to be and the role that they played during D-Day. His narrative history of the 2nd Battalion highlights people who played pivotal roles on D-Day. For example, he explains the exploits of Sergeants Len Lomell and Jack Kuhn in their harrowing adventure of finding and destroying the moved artillery pieces under the noses of the Germans. Through the adverse conditions, the Rangers succeeded in reaching their goal at an enormous cost. More than half of the men who climbed into their landing craft for the assault became casualties by the time the battle was over.

Although Brinkley outlines in detail the planning and assault on Pointe Du Hoc, I was left wanting more. Brinkley did not extrapolate much on the days following the Rangers’ harrowing ordeal. It would have been a fuller story if he explained the Rangers’ desperate attempts to prevent the Germans from retaking their position and wreaking havoc on the landing beaches.

Brinkley successfully interweaves the Rangers’ actions in with the story of Reagan and his fascination with World War II veterans. Clearly, Brinkley outdid himself in his research on the speech and the major personalities behind it. He discusses the history of the Reagan administration’s decision to speak on the boys who stormed the beaches of Normandy. His miniature biography of Peggy Noonan, the speechwriter of the “Boys of Pointe Du Hoc” speech, is interesting and brings forth surprising details. For example, he explains that she wrote a speech that fit perfectly with Reagan’s style without having a personal meeting with Reagan before the speech. She knew Reagan’s personality based on stories from others and what she observed from press.

Brinkley goes beyond a regurgitation of bland facts – he brings to life Reagan’s feelings on such a pivotal moment in American history. From Reagan’s deep-felt respect for veterans to the families of those who fought on D-Day, Brinkley honors them all. Brinkley describes how a letter written by a deceased World War II veteran’s daughter developed an almost father-daughter relationship between her and Reagan. Lisa Zanatta Henn’s letter about her father so touched Reagan that he had Henn and her family flown to Normandy to hear Reagan’s speech at Omaha Beach – which included the story of Lisa’s father. This story exemplifies Reagan’s special relationship with veterans and their families.

The various perspectives of the “Boys of Pointe Du Hoc” speech and the Omaha Beach speech are fascinating. He describes the little battles that Noonan fought with Reagan’s aides to preserve its original intent. Although many have treated the “Boys of Pointe Du Hoc” speech and the Omaha Beach speech, written by veteran speechwriter Anthony Dolan, as one, Brinkley describes how both were important in their own right. They renewed the American spirit and encouraged America and its allies to continue the fight against despotism – subtly comparing Nazi Germany with Communist Russia.

In short, this book describes how a nation came to embrace an entire generation of veterans and a president’s call for continued vigilance against a Communist threat in a short and precise book.

1 Comment

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