POINTE DU HOC, France — It was beautiful day. The sun was beginning to peek through the clouds. The waves crashed against the side of breathtaking cliffs as seagulls gently glided through the air. It is a peaceful place now, in June 2009, but the pockmarked grounds and shattered concrete testify to the battle that raged here in 1944.
Sixty-five years later, U.S. Army Rangers returned to Pointe du Hoc to honor the Rangers of World War II who scaled the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc. Their solemn ceremony June 6 was one of dozens across Normandy in honor of the 65th anniversary of D-Day.
There was one former Ranger among them.
James Gabaree was a 19-year-old private with the 5th Ranger Battalion when he got on an assault craft 10 to 12 miles from the beach at Pointe du Hoc and headed towards the shore.
"Some people think it's weird, but I wasn't scared," he said. "I knew we were well trained."
Gabaree was a Bangalore torpedo man. The Bangalore is a long metal tube filled with explosive charges used to blow up barbed wire and mines to clear a passage for incoming troops.
On D-Day the Rangers scaled the 100-foot cliffs using rope ladders and grapples, determined to capture German 155mm guns aimed at Omaha and Utah Beaches. The Germans had built six reinforced gun casements to protect the guns and despite multiple bombardments by allied planes they still remained. "When I finally got up the hill, I looked out over the beach and saw bodies being blown up and I lost my religion," said Gabaree.
When the Rangers got to the top of the cliffs they discovered that the guns had been moved farther inland, so they pushed on to complete their mission.
Gabaree was on of seven Rangers sent back to Omaha Beach to get reinforcements. On the way he was shot in the hip and back. The rest of the team left him so that they could continue on to get reinforce-ments. Unable to walk, Gabaree crawled until he came across a German soldier in a foxhole. In the ensuing firefight Gabaree killed the German and crawled into the foxhole with him.
"I gave myself 30 minutes and then I was going to kill myself," he said. "I knew that I was dying and I didn't want to die a slow death, and I didn't want to be captured by the Germans."
Gabaree was soon discovered by an U.S. Army patrol and later evacuated to England. The initial landing force of 225 Rangers was reduced to only 90 men who were still able to fight when they completed their mission two days after the landing.
For the Rangers who attended the ceremony here commemorating the 65th anniversary of the action at Pointe du Hoc, seeing the place where their forbears fought so tenaciously was an inspiring moment.
"You see pictures in books, but it doesn't do it justice," said Sgt. Nick Scarafile of the 1st Ranger Battalion, based at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga. "It's pretty amazing and it's a lot to live up to."
It was equally emotional for Gabaree to see today's Rangers, many of whom are combat veterans themselves.
"It was very humbling and I felt very gratified. To know that the tradition is being carried on, I'm very appreciative," he said.