Point du Hoc: Class Discussion
Passage A: Sergeant Victor H. Fast, age 21, 5th Ranger Battalion
positioned on Omaha Beach, seven miles west of Point du Hoc. After having
helped take the Omaha beach head, the 5th Ranger Battalion would be
sent to relieve the 2nd Ranger Battalion holding Point du Hoc.
"When I crawled up the beach to the seawall I had an M- I rifle,
two bandoliers of ammo, and several grenades. No helmet, no gas mask,
no pack, because I had peeled them all off so I could swim. I crawled
around to find a helmet from a dead buddy only to find it half full
of head-I quickly found another.
"We were lying behind the seawall regrouping when General Cota
walked up and said to Colonel Schneider, 'I'm expecting the rangers
to lead the way.' We started inland through a smoke haze and a field
of bouncing Betsies [antipersonnel mines] and captured some Germans.
I was Colonel Schneider's interpreter, and he told me to interrogate
them. He didn't tell me who or what to ask, he just said get whatever
information you can. Now I used my head and country breeding and picked
the youngest, most timid-looking, lowest-ranking Kraut I could find.
I took him away from the other prisoners and told him straight-you are
going to tell me what I want to know. First, I told him the war was
over for him and to relax. I asked him if he had observed all the American
and British bombers over- head earlier that morning. He said, 'Yes.'
That was good-I wanted to get him in a 'yes' mood. Then I told him I'd
give him three choices. One, if he told me nothing, nothing at all,
just kept his mouth shut, I would send him over to the Russians. (Of
course, I couldn't do anything of the sort.) Second, if he gave me information
about minefields and number of troops in the immediate vicinity but
left me in any doubt that he was telling the truth, I would turn him
over to my Jewish buddy, Herb Epstein, who was standing next to me.
Herb had not shaved that day, was big and burly. With a .45 on his hip,
a ranger knife in his boot, and a Thompson submachine gun, he looked
mean enough to scare the living daylights out of anybody. Thirdly, I
said that if he told me what I wanted to know and convinced me he was
telling the truth, I would send him to America, where he would have
a good life until the war was over and he could go home. He told me
about the little mines, the 'bouncing Betsies,' and about the fortifications
on Pointe du Hoc. He told me there were no troops as such in Vierville,
but inland there were numerous elite panzer divisions. He added that
the beach area was covered with crisscross fire from 88s and machine
guns. I said yes, I knew, because we had come through a barrage on the
way up the slope.
"We proceeded up the Vierville draw and drew fire from both sides
and sniper fire from the church steeple. Colonel Schneider called for
a naval bombardment of the church, and it was promptly demolished. A
girl sniper was found in the rubble.
"Another thing I remember about that day was that one of our HQ
rangers boasted that he was going to have sex with a French woman within
eight hours of hitting the beach. Sure as hell, Herb Epstein cracked
a door when we were clearing Vierville and saw the knucklehead in the
Passage B: Taken from the preface to America at D-Day, written by
Richard Goldstein, in the words of General Matthew B. Ridgway, who died
on July 26,1993.
"As I reflect on the multitudes of soldiers, sailors, and airmen
who braved the potential for sudden death on that perilous morning,
June 6, 1944, I ponder the legacy of these Allied fighting men who gave
so much to restore freedom to the world. No doubt, considerable planning,
air and sea force, and an aggressive and timely offensive impressed
the German defenders, who slowly inched back toward their beloved homeland
only to surrender their conquest the following year. A blind reverence
to Clausewitzian principles failed to consider the fighting spirit of
Allied Forces who dropped from the skies, penetrating so-called impregnable
defenses on the ground, and flew or glidered in for the ultimate defeat
of the last standing true 'Army' of the Third Reich. Under the spirited
leadership of General Eisenhower, we fought heavily fortified defenses,
maneuvering our troopers, who worked their way in behind the massive
defenses to ensure victory. Despite galelike conditions over four thousand
ships and eleven thousand American, Canadian, and British planes made
up our invasion. We had met Stalin's demand for a 'second front' with
utmost offensive spirit leading to the ultimate rout of German invaders.
The Allies were beginning 'Overlord' with a vengeance for the German
occupation of France and the heavy losses then endured by the British
and innocent civilians. Our valiant paratroopers of both the 82nd and
101st, and the British 'Pegasus,' met stiff opposition in securing lines
of passage, bridgeheads, and critical road junctions. Many individual
and small groups of courageous troopers died alone those first few precious
hours from direct fire and drowning in the canals and flooded marshes.
These troopers 'Led the Way' for the thousands of soldiers and their
overwhelming airpower and armored vehicles to ultimately free the once
wonderful Normandy city of Cherbourg.
"I think of these events as intense and masterful displays of the
dedication and offensive spirit of the Allies, who, thousands of miles
from home, relentlessly fought to make the land once again free for
human habitation. Today, as I read about the tyranny of Iraqi forces
in Kuwait and the Serbs in once peaceful Yugoslavia, I cherish the knowledge
that American forces stand ready as they did some five decades ago to
fight for freedom and human dignity."
1. As a class, discuss the importance of the United States as an allied
force in World War II. Was it considered to be the same superpower that
it is now? How was the threat different in Desert Storm? Should the
United States take great initiative when it comes to questions of international
2. The violent landings that took place during D-Day are considered
to have brought about success for the individual soldier only through
luck. Soldiers that landed on Omaha were randomly killed or injured
by mines, machine guns, artillery, etc. After reading the Passage A,
discussing the interrogation of a German prisoner as to the resistance
the 5th Ranger battalion would encounter, would you, as a soldier want
to know about the weapons of destruction setup to kill you or would
you rather enter the battlefield blindly and with higher motivation
and strive for survival?
Goldstein, Richard. America at D-Day: A Book of Rememberance.
New York, NY: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1994.
Miller, Russell. Nothing Less Than Victory: The Oral History of
D-Day. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1993.