It was a date that changed the world.
June 6, 1944, 75 years ago. D-Day. The invasion of American and allied forces on the beaches of Normandy in France designed to stop German aggression in Europe.
One of Tarleton State University’s most influential alumni, Maj. Gen. James Earl Rudder, played a big part in the success of the operation.
To commemorate D-Day and Rudder’s valor, a wreath was laid at the foot of his statue on the Tarleton campus at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
With Europe and Asia already engaged in war, Rudder, Tarleton’s football coach at the time, enlisted with the expectation that he would be back in Stephenville within a year, historian Thomas Hatfield noted in his book Rudder: From Leader to Legend. However, after being called to active duty in 1941, Rudder fought until the end of World War II in the European theater.
A defining point in the war — and in Rudder’s life — came on D-Day. Leading a group of Army Rangers, then-Lt. Col. Rudder faced withering enemy fire, a 60 percent casualty rate and almost vertical cliffs at Pointe du Hoc to take out a key German gun placement.
“He had a big part in the planning for the D-Day invasion at Normandy,” Hatfield said. “The men who were with him were so confident when they hit the beach and began scaling the 100-foot sheer cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, that they knew they were going to be victorious.”
Rudder took his son Bud to the site of the battle about 10 years after D-Day. They viewed the cliffs from a 20-foot boat off the beach where the Rangers landed.
“It was a revelation,” Bud said. “I could not conceive of him climbing those cliffs while being shot at. How did Dad do that?
“I was just short of 14 at the time. I don’t think I had a really strong grasp of the gravity of him coming back to the battlegrounds after 10 years. It was still pretty fresh on his mind. He got pretty emotional more than once.”
Rudder’s military exploits won him every decoration for gallantry, save the Medal of Honor.
The film “D-Day at Pointe Du Hoc” tells the remarkable story of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Ranger battalion. Narrated by actor David McCallum and featuring interviews with surviving veterans, the documentary chronicles the dangerous and daring mission.
The movie is available at https://www.kcet.org/shows/d-day-at-pointe-du-hoc/episodes/d-day-at-pointe-du-hoc.