“They hug the cliff too much,” Herman Stein said as he approached a waiting crowd on an overcast day in June 1984. Stein was a former Army Ranger with Dog Company who landed at Pointe du Hoc during World War II. He was slightly older than 60, but he had just beaten a dozen Special Forces soldiers up the cliffside.
“All these younger guys will be alright if they just stick with it,” Stein said.
Stein was one of 225 Rangers of the 2d Ranger Battaltion who landed there on D-Day, Jun. 6, 1944, to scale the cliff face and take out the Nazi guns. Some 40 years later, the climb was re-enacted for onlookers celebrating the 40th anniversary of the operation, the largest amphibious landing ever performed, which led to the end of the war.
The original recreation was supposed to consist of a dozen Ranger-qualified Green Berets, but Herman Stein wasn’t about to let them go alone. Stein, a roofer back in the United States, was still in top shape for the job. Despite the worries of his fellow veterans, he not only made the climb, but left the much-younger Special Forces in the dust.
This event was recounted in Patrick K. O’Donnell’s book, “Dog Company: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc.”
The first time he went to scale the cliffs of Normandy, they were part of Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall,” and time was of the essence. Although the Nazis believed the Americans weren’t crazy enough to attempt a landing at the cliff face, They were wrong. Stein and Dog Company landed on the West side of Pointe du Hoc and scaled the 90-foot cliff under heavy fire.
As President Ronald Reagan would remark at the 40th Anniversary event:
“The American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, 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. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only ninety could still bear arms.”
The Rangers were successful in neutralizing the guns and other Nazi positions at the top of the cliffs but they face stiff resistance and a harsh counterattack throughout the rest of the day and into the night. By the time a large relief column arrived for them, they had suffered a 70 percent casualty rate.
Later, Stein would recall meeting President Reagan during the event. He said the President was visibly inspired by Stein’s performance in climbing the cliff face and outdoing the Special Forces.
“Reagan was all over the moon about my climbing to the top of Pointe du Hoc,” Stein said. “I think he wished he could have done it with me.”