Skip to main content

Steelworker was D-Day hero

Berry Craig
Social share icons

Alliance for Retired Americans

POINTE DU HOC, France -- Day, June 6, 1944, was Bethlehem, Pa., Steelworker-turned-Army-Ranger Walter Geldon's third anniversary.

Eighty years ago today, enemy fire claimed his life "within a few minutes of coming ashore" in German occupied Normandy, France, explains a memorial tablet at Pointe du Hoc, scene of one of the most daring attacks on the day the Western Allies opened the long-awaited second front in Europe. 

Sgt. Geldon, 23, who had worked at Bethlehem Steel, was one of 225 elite soldiers from the Second Ranger Battalion ordered to scale 100 foot cliffs via ropes and ladders and knock out a half-dozen long-range German guns believed to be emplaced in concrete bunkers on the promontory.

Pointe du Hoc was high ground between "Utah" and "Omaha" beaches where U.S. troops would land as part of "Operation Overlord." The largest seaborne assault in history, it is commonly known as D-Day. (British forces landed on "Gold" and "Sword" beaches, and Canadian troops assaulted "Juno" beach.)

The Army brass feared the 155-millimeter guns at Pointe du Hoc were a dire threat to U.S. troops pouring onto "Utah" and "Omaha" beaches. 

The Rangers scrambled up the near-vertical stone cliffs under heavy enemy fire. When they reached the top, they discovered that the Germans had hidden the big guns inland. Dummy guns--utility poles painted black -- protruded from the bunkers, which had been pounded by aerial bombardment and naval gunfire. A U.S. Navy destroyer provided covering fire for the Rangers.

Ultimately Rangers found five of the guns and destroyed them. They couldn't find the sixth one.

They held out against German counter attacks until June 8, when they were relieved by other Rangers and by soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division. By then, less than 75 Rangers were able to fight.

Plaques at Pointe du Hoc memorialize other Rangers, who also lost their lives in the fighting. A rugged gray granite pylon fixed atop the remains of a German bunker commemorates the heroism of Geldon's outfit.

Geldon served in the battalion's C Company. His plaque explains that "he and his fellow soldiers sang songs to celebrate his anniversary" before they landed at the foot of the cliffs. 

His 78-year-old widow died in 2002 and was buried next to him in Bethlehem, according to the plaque, which includes a photo of Geldon.

Geldon apparently belonged to one of several USW locals in Bethlehem in the 1940s. Eventually, they merged into Local 2599.