Book Review: Rudder: From Leader to Legend


by Thomas M. Hatfield

College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2011. Pp. xxvi, 502. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $30.00. ISBN: 1603442626

Rudder, a volume in the “Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University,” is a comprehensive life of James Earl Rudder (1910-1970), who rose from hardscrabble roots in the Texas Hill Country by way of football, a knack for soldiering, and public service, to the presidency of Texas A&M and an influential voice in national politics. 

While educator and historian Hatfield ( Briscoe Center for American History , UT) covers Rudder’s entire life, it is the man’s military career that constitutes the backbone of the volume, directly taking up ten of the seventeen chapters.  Rudder began life in a very small central Texas town, managed to get into A&M by virtue of football, began a career as an educator and football coach, and eventually entered politics.  Meanwhile, having secured a commission through ROTC, he served as a reserve officer during the Depression years, until called up shortly before Pearl Harbor.  During World War II Rudder helped organize and train the 2nd Ranger Battalion, a process that is very well described, and then led in its spectacular assault on Pointe du Hoc on D-Day, which is treated in great detail, including operations over the days following the attack.  Rudder fought across Normandy,  Brittany, and Beglium, was in the Huertgen Forest, Battle of the Bulge, and the reduction of the Colmar Pocket.  By the end of the war he had risen to command of an infantry regiment and went on to serve on occupation duty in Germany.  After the war Rudder, who eventually rose to major general in the Army Reserve, did well in politics and business, and served as president of his alma mater from 1959 to his death.

Based on extensive research into archival materials, official documents, and newspapers, as well as extensive interviews, many with Rudder’s wartime comrades, Rudder, From Leader to Legend, is a valuable read for anyone interested in command at the front, training troops, and the campaign in northwestern Europe in 1944-1945.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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