Today's Rangers Scale Normandy Cliff in Honor of One of D-Day's Boldest Actions

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Soldiers of the 75th Ranger Regiment climb up the 100-foot cliffs of Pointe du Hoc on the Normandy coast, much like their counterparts did on D-Day, 75 years ago. In the background at left is the Ranger Monument. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)
Soldiers of the 75th Ranger Regiment climb up the 100-foot cliffs of Pointe du Hoc on the Normandy coast, much like their counterparts did on D-Day, 75 years ago. In the background at left is the Ranger Monument. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

OMAHA BEACH, France -- Maj. Ross Daly put on the World War II-era uniform of his 75th Ranger Regiment forebears Tuesday to scale the cliff at Pointe du Hoc, where 75 years ago a small group of soldiers attempted one of the most daring missions of the war.

"For us in the 2nd Ranger Battalion, this was our baptism by fire," Daly said. "This is where our battalion's legacy was born. They gave everything that day and now it is on us."

About 100 Rangers climbed the steep limestone cliffside at Pointe du Hoc to commemorate the historic operation and the 75th Ranger Regiment's role in the D-Day landings, which took a heavy toll on the unit. Only 90 of the roughly 225 Rangers who took part were still standing after two days of fighting.

The climb up the 100-foot cliffs included using rope ladders that were too short, while facing gunfire and dropped grenades on the ascent. The aim was to seize German artillery pieces that could have been used against U.S. troops at Omaha and Utah beaches.

On Tuesday, 97-year-old John Raaen watched as the Rangers climbed up again. Raaen was a company commander in the 75th's 5th Ranger Battalion, which also was part of the D-Day invasion. Instead of climbing at Pointe du Hoc, Raaen landed at the "Dog White Sector" at Omaha Beach.

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"There was little resistance there. The Germans, they more or less pulled out there," Raaen said, sitting near the cliff's edge at Point du Hoc. But it was a bad situation here."

Later that day, Raaen made it up to Pointe du Hoc to rally with other Rangers. They faced counterattacks for the next two days while defending the position. The scene was chaotic, Raaen said.

"At one point, five tanks burst over the hill and attacked us. Our own tanks. They killed about eight Rangers. Friendly fire," Raaen said. "They thought they heard the sound of German gunfire."

For today's Rangers, the climb at Point du Hoc was a chance to offer thanks, with many crouching down to trade stories with Raaen.

"We stand on your shoulders," regiment commander Col. Brandon R. Tegtmeier told Raaen after climbing the cliff.

"They fought their way up. It's amazing what they did," said Sgt. Maj. Michael Albaush, 7th Ranger Regiment's sergeant major. "For us to be a part of it and do this climb is to commemorate the history of the Rangers."

The Rangers on Tuesday made steady ascents up the cliff using well-secured climbing ropes. They wore a mix of modern Army uniforms and others styled like those during D-Day.

"It's an extremely humbling experience. You're on the same terrain here, but without the confusion, the fright, the noise, the angst of what was upon their shoulders," Daly said. "Putting on what they wore that day, it just gives a slice of what it might have felt like."

There are about 50 D-Day vets attending ceremonies this week at Normandy, where many thousands of people are gathered to mark the 75th anniversary of the allied landing in France.

The number of veterans, all of whom are well into their 90s, is dwindling with each passing year. The veterans are being honored at dozens of ceremonies being held throughout the region. On Thursday, world leaders, including President Donald Trump, also will be on hand to mark the occasion at the American cemetery at Normandy, where more than 9,000 war dead, many from the D-Day landing, are buried.

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