The incredible story of two 2nd Battalion U.S. Army Rangers who had two totally different experiences on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Both were in a fight for their lives as they approached the cliffs of Pointe-du-Hoc…The impact of that day would not be fully understood for one of the Rangers until a visit back to Normandy in 2015, 71 years to the day of what was considered a suicidal mission at the time.
George Klein and Tom Ruggiero had trained for one of D-Day’s most suicidal missions. One of the soldiers would reach his goal, the other would cling to life in the cold English Channel.
We follow George Klein back to Normandy 71 years later and he revisits the exact location where his World War II story began. His final trip will be emotional. He will be honored by those who live in Normandy and haven’t forgotten. He will attend a ceremony with old comrades for the final time at Pointe-du-Hoc, looking over the 100 foot cliff he and his fellow 2nd Rangers had to scale on June 6, 1944 in the face of a torrent of German fire.
Drone camera capture views of Pointe du Hoc seldom ever seen. A boat also takes Ranger Klein to the exact spot where he landed below the cliffs on June 6, 1944, the drone capturing views of the Pointe Klein hasn’t seen in over 70 years.
Documentary to include:
Interviews with D-Day and Pointe-du-Hoc survivors conducted by the World War II Foundation
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.
From Chicago, joined the National Guard in a horse-drawn artillery outfit in Feb. 1938 at the age of 17. Federalized in March of 1941, he went to Camp Forest Tennessee where his unit was transferred from horse-drawn to mechanized unit. In May 1942 he went to OCS Class 25 in Ft. Sill Oklahoma and went to the 80th Infantry Division, where he volunteered 2nd Ranger Battalion in April 1943.
As a 2nd Lt. he was Company Commander of “Fox” Company of the 2nd Rangers. In September, during training, he fell off a cliff and broke his ankle, while the 2nd Rangers moved to Florida and he went back to the 80th Infantry Division after convalescing. He volunteered for overseas duty and joined the 5th Infantry Division in Ireland.
He was on leave in London in February 1944 walking down the street he met Col. James Rudder of the 2nd Rangers. Klein asked if Rudder remembered him, to which Rudder replied, “Yes. You’re the idiot Lt. who fell off the cliff and broke his ankle!” Rudder asked if he would like to rejoin the Rangers and Klein accepted gladly.
Back with the Rangers, Klein crossed the English Channel with his Rangers for D-Day. Scaling the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, Klein encountered the German defense forces on the Pointe and engaged in combat where he was wounded late on the afternoon of June 6th
Antonio (Tom) Ruggiero is among the last survivors of the 2nd Ranger Battalion’s D Company that scaled the 100-foot cliffs at Pointe-du-Hoc on D-Day. When he tried to enlist in the Marines at Brockton recruiting, 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, a 93-year-old Plymouth resident and one of the last remaining survivors of the 2nd Ranger Battalion’s D Company. “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 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.”