Wilbur K. Hoffman Sr., the writer’s grandfather.

I can only imagine what it looked like. I can only imagine what it smelled and sounded like. For me, it’s history.

But for the tens of thousands there that day, D-Day is an indelible memory — the kind not easily put away into the files of the mind, let alone pushed off as history.

These men, who ran, fought, shot, climbed and ducked their way through June 6, 1944, have carried those moments with them for 75 years.

So as they age and pass on, it begs the question: How will we keep their memory, and their memories, alive?

It’s easy for those of us left behind to remember them in other ways.

They are your fathers and grandfathers and great uncles. They are your patients and neighbors — and even loyal newspaper readers.


But to keep their war memories alive is a whole other matter.

I’m ashamed to say I was 28 years old before I ever heard of Pointe du Hoc. But it’s a place I should have known.

I was, of course, familiar with Normandy, France, and its beaches. My teachers in school taught me all about General Patton and how D-Day changed the course of World War II, and how thousands of men died that day.

I knew both my grandfathers fought in the war, and I even knew one of them was in Normandy on that June 6.

What I didn’t know was that as the U.S. Army Rangers took Pointe du Hoc on the northwestern coast of Normandy that day, my grandfather, Wilbur Kenneth Hoffman Sr., was among them.

So why didn’t I know? The answer is simple. I didn’t ask.


I was always proud of my grandpa’s service in WWII, no doubt about it. But like many young people, my younger self wasn’t as interested in 50-year-old (at the time) history as I was in the latest Salt-N-Pepa album.

It wasn’t until my last visit with grandpa a little more than a year before he died in January 2013 that I learned where exactly he fought. It wasn’t until then that I realized how much of a hero he really was.

Grandpa had volunteered to be a member of the elite group of Rangers that would eventually take the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc. He was a private 1st class at the time, but would eventually leave the Army 24 years later as a master sergeant, E-8.

For months prior to June 6, 1944, he trained as a member of D Company, 2nd Ranger Battalion in Bude, England, which evidently had cliffs similar to the ones they’d be fighting for in France.

They started out the day at a disadvantage. One landing craft carrying troops had sunk, drowning all but one soldier; another was swamped. One supply craft sank, and the other threw the supplies overboard to stay afloat. German fire sank one of the amphibious trucks.

Within a mile of the shore, German mortars and guns fired on them.


The Rangers landed about 7:10 a.m. with about half the force it started with, but they pushed through, scaling the cliffs with support from Allied ships in the water.

Once at the top of the cliffs, they learned their radios were not functioning. That evening, only 23 support troops from Omaha Beach, the landing point a few miles east of Pointe Du Hoc, made it to the rendezvous. They continued to be fired upon by the Germans through the night, and some U.S. troops were taken prisoner.

It wasn’t until the morning of June 8 that the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc finally welcomed the support troops they were waiting for.

One hundred and thirty-five men were wounded or killed.

At the time, my grandpa felt he was just doing his job. The men were simply proud to serve their country.

It wasn’t until many years later that they realized the significance of what they did — taking control of a critical German-held defensive position that had prevented Allied troops from accessing France from the advantageous landing points of Omaha and Utah beaches.


Though he didn’t talk much about his service, in his later years grandpa and his fellow Rangers would have reunions at which they would talk about their service with the only other people who shared those same vivid memories. As more and more of them died, they would meet more frequently.

“By the time they started passing away, they really understood that they were a big part of history,” my uncle David told me during a chat last week.

David said grandpa was a simple man, and there were two things he was most proud of: One, he was able to serve his country well. And two, he was able to provide for his family and give them an amazing life.

“There was always food on table and a roof overhead,” David said. “He grew up in the Depression, so things like that were an enormous sense of pride for him.”

It was those real things in life that he was most proud of, and being able to keep his country free.

David said it was tough to get grandpa to talk about the invasion, but the older he got, the more he’d share some details.


“He’d tell me, ‘Don’t let them forget what happened,’” David said. “’The more people know, the less chance it will happen again.’”

I won’t ever have the memories held by my grandfather. But what I do have are the stories. I have the history.

And while I wish I had asked him so many more questions while he was still alive, the very least I can do is share my own memory of him and what he accomplished 75 years ago today.

He was a father to seven children and 19 grandchildren. He was an artist. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal, among other decorations.

He was my grandfather.

He was a war hero — I’ll tell anyone who will listen.

Marla Hoffman is the managing editor/nights for the Sun Journal and lives in Auburn.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: