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Monday, January 7, 2013 - Page updated at 04:30 a.m.
‘Dog Company’ details vital, valiant D-Day battle
By Charles R. Cross
Special to The Seattle Times
“Dog Company: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc — The Rangers Who Accomplished D-Day’s Toughest Mission and Led the Way across Europe”
by Patrick K. O’Donnell
Da Capo, 336 pp., $26
There was no single piece of turf that was more important to Allied victory in World War II than a small outcropping of rock near Omaha Beach called Pointe du Hoc. From that promontory, behind massive reinforced concrete bunkers, the Germans had the capacity to cut down the Allied landing force with deadly firepower.
A bold plan was launched. A small group of U.S. Army Rangers was assigned to land on the beach and use grappling hooks and ropes to ascend the massive vertical cliff faces. It was the only way to get the advantage over the defenders, despite the suicidal nature of the mission.
In “Dog Company,” Patrick O’Donnell skillfully tells the tale of the 68 soldiers who made up the 2nd Ranger Battalion, assigned the grim task of destroying the gun emplacements. Though there have been hundreds of books that tackled D-Day, none have given so much detail to this one company or to Pointe du Hoc.
The Ranger mission was ultimately such an important one that when then President Reagan went to Normandy to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the D-Day landing in 1984, it was Pointe du Hoc he emphasized.
“The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers ... shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades,” Reagan said. “One by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe.”
Yet the assault of Pointe du Hoc, like most military operations, did not go as planned. Ships went off course, platoons went astray, and the guns, the whole purpose of the operation, were not where they were expected.
O’Donnell does an admirable job of presenting the story of the Rangers in such minute detail that you feel you are there during the assault. And while that completist approach to nonfiction will appeal to D-Day buffs, it is in contrast to Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers,” which oftentimes skipped over details but kept tension high. “Dog Company” occasionally drags, but usually it soars.
Dog Company’s tenure in Europe did not end after Pointe du Hoc, and O’Donnell also takes the Rangers across the continent. But by that point, the battalion has accomplished the impossible, and made its place in history.
O’Donnell writes of one group of soldiers in Dog Company who left a Ranger poker game on the night before the assault to seek a priest. “Every man who left (the) game to pray would die the next day within an hour of landing at Pointe du Hoc,” O’Donnell writes. In a strange piece of fate, the poker players survived.
Those praying men and the ones who climbed the cliffs and battled Germans in hand-to-hand combat are heroes of true legend. “Dog Company” helps keep that sacrifice alive with a cinematic telling of a small story that forever changed history.
Seattle writer Charles R. Cross is the author of eight books, including “Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock ‘N’ Roll,” just out from Harper Collins.
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