James E. Fulton was only 20 years of age when he hit Normandy beach between Omaha and Utah. He joined the US army at 17. He was a member of F Company, 2nd Ranger Battalion of the 1st Army that was charged with knocking out German artillery sitting on the cliff overlooking the two landing zones for other U.S. forces. “It was the crazy, funny stull that pulled you through,” James remembers. The first and chief objectives of Company F were guns 1 and 2 and the machine-gun position at the edge of the cliff, just east of the main fortified area. Once these objectives were taken, the plan had been to assemble at a phase line near the south edge of the fortified area.
Pointe-du-Hoc, four miles west of Omaha Beach, the Germans had constructed a fortified position for a coastal battery of six 155-mm howitzers of French make; four guns were in open emplacements and two were casemated, with further construction work on casemates reported under way in April and May. This battery was one of the most dangerous elements in the German coastal defenses of the assault area. With a 25.000 yard range, the 155's could put fire on the approaches to Omaha Beach and on the transport area of V Corps; in addition they could reach the transport area from which VII Corps, to the west, would unload for assault at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula ("Utah" Beach).
The assault begins
At H Hour, 06:30 am, three companies of the 2d Rangers Battalion, led by Lieutenant Colonel James E. Rudder, were scheduled to touch down at the foot of the cliffs and deliver their assault. They totaled about 225 men,1 including a headquarters detachment. The three companies selected for the mission at Pointe-du-HoC had received intensive training and had developed special equipment for the operation. During April and May, at Swanage on the Isle of Wight, the personnel had been conditioned by hard practice in rope and ladder work on cliff s like those of the French coast, combined with landing exercises in difficult waters. Personnel of British Commando units gave all possible help, based on their experience in coastal raids. As a result of experiment with all types of equipment for escalade, main reliance was placed on ropes to be carried over the cliff tops by rockets; in addition, the assault wave would take along extension ladders. British landing craft (LCA's) with British crews were used both in the training and in the actual operation.
Two of the boats never made it ashore. “We could make ‘em out at the top of the cliff”, James said of the Germans who were shooting down on the Rangers. We had no way of getting our people out of there because no one was coming in behind us. We had no radio contact. We had quite a few casualties. I mean, some were real bad. But not a guy com-plained.” They found a natural crevice in the face of the cliff and put as many wounded as possible there, away from the German gunfire. Despite the heavy gunfire and hand grenades falling around him, James said he does not remember being scared. “I just wanted to get the hell in and up there. We were young, stupid and full of shit. Everybody was pretty wound up.
Two boat teams of Company F became involved in an action that lasted most of the day. But, by and large, movement went very nearly according to plan, a plan based on confidence in the ability of small, pick-up groups to work independently toward main objectives. This confidence was rewarded by success.
We were all half crazy anyway
“Some psychiatrist said later on that we were all half crazy anyway.” He said many of the rocket-launched repelling ropes and grappling hooks did not take hold, and others were cut loose by the Germans. But he made his way up a rope that took many of the Rangers into a crevice created by the massive shelling and bombing that preceded the invasion. Allied bombs and shells had blown a chunk of the cliff away, creating a safer and shorter climb to the top.
On top of the cliffs
Once on top of the cliffs, the Rangers made quick work of the defenders. They were artillery men. They didn’t put up much of fight, you’d shoot one and the others would either give up or run away.” The U.S. troops soon found that the coastal guns they were sent to destroy were not there. Soldiers brought up many of the wounded and placed them in the pillboxes. James, who lied about his age to join the Army at age 17, estimates that as many as 230 Rangers hit the beach at Pointe-du-Hoc, but only a fourth reached the top of the cliff and were able to continue fighting.
Finding the guns
US Army Center of Military History:
Reversing course back to the ladders, Private. William E. Anderson joined Private First Class John Bacho and Staff Sergeant. James E. Fulton, who were just starting south through the fields to make the blacktop. The three men followed along hedgerow lines, using the "Buddy" system, one man covering as two moved, in a leap-frogging advance. Within a hundred yards they caught up with Lieutenant Hill and two other Rangers from 884, going in the same direction. The only sign of enemy was occasional sniper fire. At the first lateral hedgerow they turned west; Bacho and Fulton went through the hedgerow to guard the flanks and lost touch with the others, eventually joining Lieutenant Arman's group near the highway.
Hill's party, now four men, worked west to reach the double-hedgerowed lane, picking up a willing prisoner from the field on their right. Machine-gun fire to the west, near the exit road, drew their attention, and the four Rangers started angling in that direction. As they were passing through a field of stubble wheat, automatic fire came at them from the direction of Pointe du Hoe, and forced them to crawl. So far the gun they were after had not spotted them and was not firing in their direction. About 25 feet from the exit road, Lieutenant Hill and Anderson reached the cover of a low embankment. The machine gun was just beyond the road ahead of them. Hill stood up to look at the position and to Anderson's amazement shouted, "You ...you couldn't hit a bull in the ass with a bass fiddle!" This drew enemy fire; as Hill dropped back into cover, Anderson tossed him a grenade, Hill threw it, and the machine-gun fire stopped. A few minutes later, Lieutenant Lapres came down the exit road with the advance group of Company E, and Hill's action may have saved this party from surprise fire. The four Company F men now served as flank patrol for the further advance along the exit road, moving one hedgerow to the left of Lapres. Anderson, as he neared the blacktop, fired at somebody to the west near the road intersection, but was not sure (later) whether it was a German or Sergeant Lang.
James E. Fulton:
With no guns to destroy, parts of 2nd Battalion turned their efforts to a coastal highway they were to take and hold to prevent enemy troop movements. The rest of the battalion stayed behind to hold the cliff and take care of the wounded. James and his company also happened to find two of the coastal artillery pieces in a wooded area. They disabled the guns with a special chemical and hand grenades. The Logan County resident also used the occasion to practice his demolition skills. He set a small charge in the gunpowder supply and blew it up. “The other company found four guns in the same woods and were working to knock out those guns. When that powder blew, it sounded as if the whole woods went up,” he said, adding that it startled his comrades in the other company. He said the Rangers were able to gain control of the highway and began sending out patrols. “The trips were more or less like hunting. We were hunting Germans and they were hunting us,” James said. “We were in our element. They (the US Army) taught us to fight dirty and live dirty. That’s what we did.”
Just why the German guns were thus left completely undefended and unused is still a mystery. One theory, based on the fact that some artillerymen were captured that day on the Point, was that bombardment caught them there in quarters, and they were unable to get back to their position. All that can be stated with assurance is that the Germans were put off balance and disorganized by the combined effects of bombardment and assault, to such an extent that they never used the most dangerous battery near the assault beaches but left it in condition to be destroyed by weak patrols.
“I was probably the only soldier to milk a cow on D-Day.”
It was along the mile walk that they found the cow that turned out to be the source of a much-welcome treat. The cow was an inviting target. Docile and full of milk, the bovine grazing in the pastures near the beaches of Normandy was exactly what James Fulton and his Ranger company needed after climbing up a 100-foot cliff and clearing out the Germans atop Pointe-du-Hoc. “We came on the cow in the middle of this field,” the 70-year-old Zanesfield resident said. “It was a small field. I told the guys that I was going to catch the cow and milk her. “They thought I was kidding”. Most of the city guys were scared of it and didn’t believe I could do it. “Well, I caught it. I got my canteen cup and started squeezing milk into it. Pretty soon everybody had their cups underneath her. “We got our fill of milk that day. We hadn’t eaten since 2 a.m., and it was around noon.
German counter attack and taking a prisoner
That night the Germans pounded the Rangers’ highway outpost, driving James and his buddies back to the cliffs. Along the way back, they unwittingly picked up a German captain. He sneaked into the spread-out line behind James. The sound of the German’s boots gave him away. “It sounded different than our soft-soled jump boots, “ James said. After discovering the tag along, James said he asked the Ranger in line behind him how the German got there. “He said I thought it was you.’
The captive made himself useful by helping the company traverse the mine fields guarding the rear of the beachhead. He stuck by James until a supply ship arrived on June 7. After the ammunition and supplies were unloaded by the captain and other German captives, the wounded and prisoners were taken back to the supply boat. One resupply that never came was more Rangers. Under invasion plans, two more battalions were to follow, James said. Those units were sent to Omaha to help break through German defenses and get the infantry off the beach.
Hit by a mortar shell
On June 8, James was wounded by a German mortar while on patrol. A piece of shrapnel ripped through his tongue and lodged in his throat. A shot of morphine made the pain bearable, and he was shipped back to England. There he waited 10 days for surgery, under doctors’ orders to subsist on a liquid diet. The doctors were waiting on a special instrument to remove the shrapnel through the mouth. “I wish they would have told me (not to eat solid food),” he said. “I was bumming food off the other wounded... toast, whatever I could get.”
Getting back to his unit
After the surgery, he rejoined his unit. He was discharged in 1945, only to sign up again. He was awarded three Purple Hearts. Mr. Fulton said he was proud of his part in the invasion, but added he does not consider himself a hero. The decorated veteran is concerned that Americans are losing personal freedoms, and don’t seem to mind. “It makes you wonder what in the hell it was all about.” he said. Even so, he said, “Hell yes, I’d do it again.”
Among the elite
James Fulton, who was one of more than 225 U.S. Army Rangers who climbed the cliffs at Pointe-du-Hoc on D-Day.
Story given by James' grandson Mr. Jim Futon. Article is partially copied from an article by Joel E. Mast and the US Army Center of Military History.