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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"

HOW THE TEXAS RANGERS HELPED WIN WW II

by C. F. Eckhardt
This story came to me from an old friend, James Earl Rudder, Jr., known as 'Buddy' when we were in O. Henry Junior High in Austin at the same time. We became acquainted because at one time we dated girls who were best friends.

Buddy's father, when he retired, was MG James Earl Rudder, Sr., USAR, President of and Commandant of Cadets at Texas A&M University. He was a decorated WW II veteran and one of the first Army Rangers. Then-CPT Rudder went through the very first cycle of Ranger training at Fort Benning, Georgia, graduated with honors, was promoted to LTC-skipping 'the Major's corner' entirely-and took a battalion of Ranger hopefuls through the school. He commanded that battalion when it was sent to England for training prior to Operation Overlord on 6 June 1944.

To understand what happened, you have to be aware of a man known as 'The German Zane Grey.' His name was Karl May (pronounce it 'my'). He was a German writer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and he wrote Westerns. Herr May had never been to the United States, let alone to the American West. That didn't keep him from writing stories set there. At least at first he didn't really know much about the subject. In one of his early novels he had a coyote 'winging its way across the prairie.'

Herr May had a thing about Texas Rangers. Once the Rangers showed up in a May novel, it was time to bring out the shovels, because a whole bunch of bad guys were going to need graves very shortly. According to Herr May, one Ranger was a match for a platoon of badmen, two could handle a company, and three could take on a regiment without breaking sweat.

Karl May's novels were, to several generations of German children-and still are, to some extent-what Zane Grey's and Clarence E. Mulford's novels were to several generations of American kids. Everybody read Karl May novels. Even Adolf Hitler, in his youth, was a Karl May fan, devouring his 'Old Shatterhand' mountain-man novels voraciously. In fact, after becoming Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Hitler quietly purchased about 40,000 acres in western Colorado, where the Old Shatterhand novels are set.

The US Army Rangers, including LTC Rudder's battalion, were assigned the toughest job on D-Day. They were to scale the cliffs facing Omaha Beach and silence the resistance at the top. The tops of those cliffs were heavily fortified, with dug-in machinegun nests, heavy artillery in reinforced-concrete bunkers, and pillboxes for infantry to fight from. The Rangers were light infantry, equipped with M-1 Garand rifles, M-1 carbines, Thompson submachineguns, and pistols. Their task of climbing the cliffs with ropes and scaling ladders under fire pretty much mitigated against carrying anything heavier-like the best light machinegun of the war, the Browning Automatic Rifle or BAR, which weighed over 20 lbs. Carrying a 10 lb Tommygun was about as heavy a piece as a man could manage on a rope ladder. At least one sixshooter, a Colt New Service model 1917, in .45 ACP caliber, went up the cliffs. It was in LTC Rudder's shoulder holster.

Resistance, at first, was murderous. It continued to be heavy as the Rangers reached the base of the cliffs. However, as Rudder's men went up the cliffs, resistance faded. By the time his men reached the top they found the bunkers and pillboxes deserted.

Being good Rangers they didn't stop to scratch their heads and wonder where the Germans went. They fanned out to the sides and attacked the other positions from the flanks, disrupting organized resistance at the clifftop and assisting other Ranger battalions in taking the objective.

It was several weeks before LTC Rudder found out what happened to the troops facing his men. A wehrmacht feldwebel-a sort of 'first corporal'-who had been in the unit facing Rudder's men was captured. It seems that the Abwehr, the German intelligence service, was very efficient. Perhaps a little too efficient. It identified the unit as a battalion of Rangers. It also identified their commander-LTC James Earl Rudder. It also identified his home. He was from Texas! Every German there grew up on Karl May novels. They added it up: Battalion of Rangers + commander from Texas = Battalion of Texas Rangers!

The Germans were brave men, but they weren't foolish. They knew from Karl May what they were facing. They executed a strategic withdrawal rather than face the men May painted as the most ferocious fighters on the face of the earth, men who took no prisoners and gave no quarter. And that's how the Texas Rangers helped win WW II.

C. F. Eckhardt
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas"
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September 6, 2006 column

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