Memorial Day 2019
The Quick Overview:
The incredible story of two U.S. Army Rangers on D-Day, June 6, 1944 and their fight for survival, one in the cold waters of the English Channel as his mission fell apart and the other on top of the 100 foot-high cliffs of Pointe-du-Hoc, where 6 enemy cannons were supposed to be located.
Click Here to see some of our Drone Camera video of Pointe-du-Hoc.
Click Here to see archival video of the Rangers training for D-Day.
Documentary to include:
-Interviews with D-Day and Pointe-du-Hoc survivors.
-Exclusive Drone footage of the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc.
-Exclusive Drone footage of the English Channel approach to Pointe du Hoc and of the seaward side of the cliffs themselves.
Initially, when he tried to enlist in the Marines at Brockton.MA recruiting station, he was rejected for being too short. Ruggiero went on to win a Bronze Star for his valor in combat.
When Antonio (Tom) Ruggiero was a boy growing up in Plymouth, he dreamed of being a dancer. “I was a performer, and I met Mickey Rooney,” he said. ‘‘My idol was Fred Astaire.”
It hardly seems like the aspirations of a future soldier picked to storm the beach at Normandy, but Ruggiero’s strong dancer’s legs and small stature would prove to be assets in combat.
“I decided to join the Marines, but guess what happened? They didn’t want me,” recalled Ruggiero. “We had to go to the Brockton Post Office and they said, ‘How tall are you?’ Well, I said, I don’t make five-foot-three. I’m five-two. ‘You’re too little. Go home and do some stretchin’”
Ruggiero, feeling feisty from the rejection, challenged the Marine recruiters: “How tall do you have to be squeeze a rifle trigger?”
Several weeks later, the dancer from Plymouth, MA enlisted in the U.S. Army and into the elite Rangers. They were shipped to England to train for the coming invasion of France, but Ruggiero’s company needed a unique kind of training.
Their target was neither Omaha nor Utah beach but the 100-foot tall cliffs at Pointe-du-Hoc. And Ruggiero, nicknamed Ruggie by his buddies, was built for the job.
“I could climb like a monkey for chrissake,” he said, sitting in his living room in Plymouth with scrapbooks stuffed with black-and-white photos and yellowed telegrams in his lap. “They’d yell at us, ‘Come on you nuts, get going.’”
Ruggiero has spent decades reliving and retelling the harrowing events of D-Day and afterwards, and he is a natural storyteller, full of drama, detail, inflection and even humor.
The night before D-Day, one of the officers got drunk, Ruggiero said.
“He was talking to the guys who were shootin’ craps and saying, ‘We’re gonna get killed. This is stupid. They’re gonna chop us right up,’” said Ruggiero, his voice dropping a register to imitate the inebriated officer.
Vivid memories for Ruggiero come from the landing craft he and 21 other Rangers were aboard on D-Day.
“They gave us a paper bag because most everyone started getting seasick,” he said.
German shells rained down around the boats as they pushed toward the beach. Ruggiero was carrying high explosives. At one point, he swallowed some seawater that crashed the boat, and he stuck his head up over the gunwales.
His buddy, another Italian-American, grabbed him.
“Get down,” he told Ruggiero. “Don’t you see those 88s coming over? One of them hits you, you’re gonna blow us all up.”
About 300 yards from the cliffs, a German shell exploded just underneath the boat, flinging it over into the air and throwing Ruggiero and all 21 other Army Rangers into the ice-cold water.
‘‘Forty-one degrees, that water. We lost 11 of them. The guys drowned in the cold,” said Ruggiero.
“One guy couldn’t do it (tread water). ‘I can’t make my legs move,’ but I told him, ‘Yes, you can. You can,’” Ruggiero recalled. “Well, I could because I was a dancer. Up and down, up and down. I said to him, ‘Just pretend you’re on a bicycle and keep it going.’”
But that soldier he tried to help – a radio operator – didn’t survive the cold water, and Ruggiero and his comrades – plucked from the ocean by a misdirected gunboat – didn’t make it to the cliffs at Pointe-du-Hoc on D-Day.
Two days later, Ruggiero and the other Rangers were re-equipped and sent back to the same target.
“The captain said, ‘You got trained to climb a cliff. We’re gonna climb a cliff,’” he said. “He says, ‘Come on, Ruggie.’ So I climbed up and got that rope and threw it down.”
Ruggiero paused in the story for a moment and added a bit of local flavor: “You know, that rope came from the Cordage Company in Plymouth? Three-quarter-inch, believe it or not.”
Near the cliff top, they assembled and fell in with their mission: taking out Nazi outposts and their machine guns.
“You know how we found them? By mistake,” he said, laughing, then pointing to a photo of a man he identified as Capt. McBride.
He and McBride went out looking for Germans but got separated.
“Where’d he go? This way or that way?” said Ruggiero. “Once I hear his gun going off, his Thompson, oh, Jesus, he’s on the other side of the hedgerows .. and when I looked over, I see a German helmet.”
Ruggiero keeps up the suspense.
Ruggiero said he had a small amount of ammunition and one grenade. “You have to pull that clutch back on the grenade, and I didn’t want to do it because it makes a helluva noise. They hear it: click-clack,” he recalled. “My legs were shaking already for cripes sake. I wasn’t ashamed to say it.”
Ruggiero said he stuffed grass and brush all around his helmet for camouflage.
“Come on, I was saying to myself, fire a burst, a good burst,” he said. “And I took advantage of the damned hedge. It went off. Eight Germans were killed. McBride ran right in and sprayed them.”
More than a week later, McBride was awarded a Silver Star and Ruggiero a Bronze Star for their actions.
He stayed with the Rangers through the Battle of the Bulge. Back in Plymouth, he became a firefighter and still remembers the training he did in Boston alongside police cadets.
When it came time for a swim test, Ruggiero waved it off.
“I said, ‘You guys swim. I did my swimming already,” he remembered, smiling. “But when they said you have to climb a rope, that was mincemeat for me.”
At the time a 24-year-old sergeant, led a platoon of US army Rangers, climbing hand-over-over hand by rope, up the sheer, 100ft Pointe du Hoc cliffs in Normandy on 6 June 1944 in one of the most crucial actions of the Second World War. The objective of his platoon, and 200 other men of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, was a cluster of five or six clifftop German 155mm artillery guns which threatened the entire allied D-Day landing force on the nearby Omaha and Utah beaches. Allied intelligence had suggested that the guns, with a range of up to 15 miles, could decimate the allied landing force and turn the D-Day landing into a disaster.
Lomell, already wounded on the beach by a German machine gun, scaled the cliff under heavy gunfire, a shower of grenades and with the Germans trying to cut their ropes. But he and the Rangers were shocked to find there were no big guns where the reconnaissance photos had traced them; the intelligence flights had been fooled by angled telegraph poles painted to look like gun barrels. After the Rangers fought their way from the cliff edge in small groups, sustaining heavy casualties, Lomell and another sergeant, Jack Kuhn, stumbled across the real artillery pieces, five of them. They had been camouflaged in an apple orchard almost a kilometre inland.
The guns were aimed at Utah beach, where American troops had been landing since H-Hour – 06.30 French time – but could have been swivelled round to hit the Americans coming ashore on Omaha. Lomell, who had waded ashore at 7.08, saw that the guns, though ready to fire and surrounded by ammunition, were unmanned. But he and Kuhn quickly ascertained that the guns’ crews and infantrymen of the German 716th Infantry division –100-150 men – were bunkered in or around a French farmhouse 100 yards away. They had taken cover from RAF bombing and heavy shelling from the US battleship Texas during the 40 minutes before H-Hour.
While Kuhn kept watch, Lomell put three of the guns out of action with thermide (incendiary) grenades, destroying their recoil mechanisms and sights. He had to crawl away to get more such grenades from his platoon before putting the other two out of action. It was not yet 09.00 and Lomell and the US Rangers had become the first allied unit to complete their mission.
That mission has featured in many films, notably The Longest Day (1962) although it upset the surviving D-Day Rangers because it ended their role at the moment when they found no German artillery pieces on the cliffs. In the movie, one Ranger says to a Lomell-like character: “Sarge, you mean we came all this way – for nuthin’?” The D-Day exploits of Lomell and the Rangers’ Dog Company also feature in the popular video game Call of Duty 2.
Lomell would receive the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest military honour, for his D-Day action, as well as the Silver Star for his bravery in the capture of Hill 400 in December 1944 during the long Battle of Hürtgen Forest, before the Battle of the Bulge. For 50 years after the war, a successful lawyer, he rarely talked about his wartime experiences. It was only in 1999 that he won fame in the US after the popular NBC TV news anchor Tom Brokaw published the award-winning The Greatest Generation, dedicating a chapter to Lomell. Always a team player, however, he was embarrassed after the war historian Stephen Ambrose, in his 1998 book The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys, described Lomell as the single American, other than President Eisenhower, most responsible for the success of D-Day. Lomell’s response: “I lost half my guys. What more is there to know?”
By the time Lomell had reached those guns, he had lost 12 of his 22-man platoon, dead or wounded. Of the 225 men of the three companies – Dog, Easy and Fox – of the 2nd Ranger Battalion who scaled Pointe du Hoc, only 90 were left standing at the end of D-Day.
The Rangers force, commanded by Lt. Colonel James Rudder, had been trained, partly by British commandos, at Achnacarry in Scotland and around Swanage and the Isle of Wight. On 5 June 1944, they left Weymouth on board HMS Ben Machree, the LCI (Landing Craft, Infantry) which would ferry them to the shores of Normandy.
Shortly before H-Hour on D-Day, Lomell and his platoon jumped into LCA (Landing Craft, Assault) 668, one of 10 LCAs and four amphibious DUKWs (“Ducks”) crewed by the Royal Marines and equipped with rockets to fire grapnels, or grappling hooks, on to the clifftops. The men also carried their own rockets, with ropes attached, and tubular-steel extendable ladders “liberated” from the London Fire Brigade and mounted with Lewis machine guns.
Lomell was the first Ranger hit by a machine-gun as he waded ashore, but the bullet did not hit any vital organs and he headed for the ropes. On the beach, he saw the giant British Lt Col Thomas “Joe” Trevor, a senior commando adviser, striding around despite the heavy gunfire. “I take two short steps and three long ones,” he explained to his astonished American comrades. “And they always miss me.” When a bullet hit his helmet and knocked him to the ground, Trevor yelled “you dirty son of a bitch!” and began crawling like the others, before climbing the cliff.
Leonard G Lomell was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1920, the adopted son of Scandinavian immigrant parents. He was still a child when they moved to Point Pleasant, by the Atlantic in New Jersey, where he graduated in 1937 from Point Pleasant Beach High School after starring for the school’s American football and baseball teams, the Garnet Gulls. An athletics scholarship got him to Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, Tennessee, where he edited the student newspaper before graduating in 1941. He served for a time as a brakeman on freight trains in New Jersey before joining up in 1942 with the US Army’s 76th Infantry Division and then volunteering for the Rangers.
After the war, Lomell studied law under the GI Bill, graduating from Rutgers Law School in New Jersey. He married Charlotte Ewart, a nurse, on the second anniversary of D-Day and went on, in 1957, to co-found what eventually became known as the Lowell Law Firm in the New Jersey township of Toms River. He became known for his pro bono work for the poor and as “a fierce advocate for women in trouble,” notably in divorce cases, according to colleagues. Once, when fellow lawyers refused to admit a Jewish colleague into a private club, Lomell told them: “I didn’t climb the cliffs of Normandy to find fascists in my own back yard.”
One of Lomell’s proudest possessions was a painting entitled The Point, by the American war artist Larry Selman, which shows Lomell firing his Thompson sub-machine gun as one of his platoon helps their radio man on to the clifftop. (Courtesy of The Independent Newspaper (U.K.)