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 atop 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 Second Ranger Battalion began to climb those cliffs.
Rudder graduated from Texas A&M University in 1932 and was commissioned a second 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.
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 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."
In June 2011, Humanities Texas published an excerpt from Thomas M. Hatfield's 2011 book Rudder: From Leader to Legend in our monthly e-newsletter. The excerpt details the Second Ranger Battalion's first night on Pointe du Hoc.
The James Earl Rudder Collection is held by Texas A&M University's Cushing Library. The collection includes materials from Rudder's time in the service during World War II, clippings from newspapers, posters, magazine issues, memorabilia, and Rudder's awards.
In recognition of the significance of Rudder's tenure as president of Texas A&M University, the university erected a sculpture of Rudder in 1993. The statue, which was designed by Lawrence M. Ludtke, was originally located in front of Bizzell Hall, but was moved in 2009 to stand at the south end of Military Walk.
Ambrose, Stephen. The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.
Black, Robert W. The Battalion: The Dramatic Story of the 2nd Ranger Battalion in World War II. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2006.
Brinkley, Douglas. The Boys of Pointe du Hoc. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
Hatfield, Thomas M. Rudder: From Leader to Legend. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2011.
Lane, Ronald. Rudder's Rangers. Manassas, VA: Ranger Associates, 1979.
Mauro, Garry. Land Commissioners of Texas. Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1986.
Todd, William N. IV, and Gerald Knape. "Rudder, James Earl." Handbook of Texas Online.