James Earl Rudder
May 6, 1910– March 23, 1970
The German army considered Pointe du Hoc a perfect spot for defending the coast of France from Allied forces during World War II. From a top its hundred-foot cliffs, German guns could reach both Omaha Beach and Utah Beach. The Germans thought their position was secure. And it was — until June 1944, when Texan James Earl Rudder and his 2nd Ranger Battalion began to climb those cliffs.
Rudder graduated from Texas A&M University in 1932 and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army reserves. He taught high school and college … and coached football until he was called to active duty in 1941. He trained U.S. Army Rangers for one of D-Day’s most dangerous operations: taking Pointe du Hoc.
During the assault, over half of Rudder’s men were killed or wounded and Rudder himself was shot in the leg. But the high ground was seized and the German guns were silenced.
Rudder's statue on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station, Texas.
After the war, Rudder continued to take on tough challenges. As president of Texas A & M, he supported optional membership in the Corps of Cadets and he helped open the university to women, despite great opposition.
When he died in 1970, Rudder was celebrated for his courageous leadership in both war and peace. An inscription on Rudder Tower, located on the A&M campus, remembers Rudder’s “uncommon ability to inspire men and lead them to exceptional achievement.”
Ambrose, Stephen. The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II. Simon & Schuster, 1998.
Brinkley, Douglas. The Boys of Pointe du Hoc. Harper Collins, 2005.
Lane, Ronald. Rudder’s Rangers. Manassas, VA: Ranger Associates, 1979.
Rudder, James Earl. Handbook of Texas Online. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/RR/fru6.html
Hatfield, Tim. Rudder: From Leader to Legend. Texas A&M University Press, 2011 (forthcoming).
This episode first aired on July 28, 2012.