Catherine C. Heywood
The Boys of Pointe du Hoc
“…In seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only ninety could still bear arms. Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs and before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs…”
Many of you may know I used to be a political speechwriter. What you may not know is one speech, that I watch every year on this day, is what sparked that fire.
The “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” was written for the 40th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. When I first watched it as a girl it gave me chills. Every year when he comes to the lines above I still get chills.
This was the first time I’d been so moved…by a speech. Of course the man who delivered it—President Reagan—love him or leave him, he was a singularly gifted orator. But there was beauty in not just his delivery, not just the sentiment, but the words. How they had a musical rhythm. They dipped like a dance and echoed on that hilltop.
Before the internet gave us answers in minutes, I looked up that speechwriter. Only to discover it wasn’t a stodgy old man like I was imagining, but a 34-year-old young woman. A blonde woman with a shortened Irish name. I thought Peggy Noonan looked and sounded a lot like me.
And I never forgot it.
At that age, I wanted to be a Broadway performer. And I went on for some years to pursue that. But when life took a turn, and I began to consider something else, I remembered that 34-year-old woman with the shortened Irish name who looked an awful lot like me.
So when, at 22, I was asked if I wanted to write speeches for a governor, I didn’t hesitate.
How important it was to see someone who looked like me doing something I thought was the sole propriety of men. How important it is to see people who look like us doing all sorts of things. In books, on screen, in boardrooms, and even in the Oval Office.
It matters. Because little ones are watching…and waiting to be moved.
If you have thirteen minutes, I highly recommend watching this speech. It isn’t just a moving tribute to soldiers and a battle, more importantly it’s an impassioned plea for peace during a time when our world was still gripped by the spectre of a great war.