Patrick K. O'Donnell is back with another close look at an aspect of World War II. Having greatly enjoyed his The Brenner Assignment, I was eager to see his latest book on the Rangers who stormed the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc in Normandy during the D-Day invasion of June 1944. Dog Company is an account of the heroic Rangers, the training that enabled them to succeed despite withering fire and heavy losses, and the rest of their trek across Western Europe. It's a riveting, in-depth look at the company through the eyes of the survivors, and only a couple of minor issues take away from the drama.
O'Donnell interviewed most (if not all) of the survivors of Company D (Dog Company), the Rangers who were tasked with the most difficult missions in the Western European conflict. They first became famous for being charged with destroying the massive German guns on the cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc overlooking the beaches where Allied troops would be storming ashore. To do so, they would have to scale sheer surfaces with little to no protection. The bravery of these men radiates, from the cliff-climbing training in Great Britain to the lead-up to the fateful assault.
The narrative then moves on to the Hurtgen Forest, one of the most unnecessary battles of the war and one that cost many American lives. For months, the members of Dog Company are cut down right and left in small villages or among the trees. You can almost feel the air bursts of mortars as they send shrapnel and bits of tree slicing through the soldiers. Finally, O'Donnell talks about Dog's role in the Battle of the Bulge and the crossing of the Roer River.
O'Donnell is able to bring this immediacy to the narrative because almost all of his sources are those Dog Company survivors whom he was able to interview for the book. They told intensely personal stories about the horrors they lived through, seeing friends cut down around them or even terrible things that they had to do. The first time one of them recounts seeing a dead German soldier to find that he is really just a teenager forced by Hitler into defending the homeland, the pain pours into the reader.
All that mars Dog Company is O'Donnell's penchant for repeating facts and other things that have already been said just a few pages before. These are presented as if they're brand new and that readers should remember them, which they probably did when O'Donnell first mentioned them. It happens often enough to become annoying and take the reader out of the book temporarily.
Otherwise, Dog Company is a powerful story of heroism, dedication, loyalty, and courage as these men are put through the meat grinder and come out the other side. Many of the interviews for this and other O'Donnell books are the fruit of his "Drop Zone" oral history project that attempts to keep the stories of these World War II veterans alive.
They make riveting books as well. Dog Company is a keeper.