Book Review of Rudder: From Leader to Legend by Eric Pennington

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Book Review of Rudder: From Leader to Legend by Eric Pennington
This Book Review of Rudder: From Leader to Legend by Thomas M. Hatfield is brought to you from Eric Pennington from the Titans of Investing.

Genre: Historical Biographies
Author: Thomas M. Hatfield
Book: Rudder: From Leader to Legend (Buy the Book)


Thomas M. Hatfield’s biography of James “Earl” Rudder depicts a man noted for his leadership abilities in the military and in academia. He highlights Rudder’s life when he was growing up, playing football, and coaching; serving in World War II; building his post-war career. During each phase of life, Rudder conducted himself with key characteristics that enabled him to grow from leader to legend.

This brief highlights Rudder’s coaching career, early war commands, and post-war political appointments.  The anecdotes included in the  Brief were chosen to illustrate vividly the results of Rudder’s leadership. Also included are actions representing his beliefs in public service and character traits used for the greater good.

Studying successful leaders’ actions and attributes can help expand one’s knowledge and understanding of one’s own leadership style. An improved self-awareness enables a person to modify their behavior or to recognize why others may react in certain ways to certain behaviors.

James “Earl” Rudder advanced beyond normal leadership to become a legend by:

  • Consciously looking after the welfare of subordinates
  • Holding himself to the same or higher standards that he held others to
  • Disciplining himself to  achieve delayed gratification
  • Instilling strong work ethics in everyone around him
  • Remaining true to his principles
  • Always being honest and straightforward
  • Tackling problems head-on
  • Humbly assisting all of his constituents
  • Reflecting on his own performance and striving for greatness
  • Maintaining a firm, fair hand while remaining approachable and collegial
  • Being prepared and continuously training
  • Paying attention to details and perceptions
  • Maintaining and encouraging utilization of his Open Door policy
  • Focusing on the future and not dwelling on the past Essentially, Rudder’s actions reflected the 17 Personal Lessons of a Titan. His life exemplifies how to achieve legendary significance.


Thomas M. Hatfield’s biography, Rudder From Leader to Legend, illustrates James “Earl” Rudder’s character and leadership traits that propelled him beyond the status of era significance to a legendary figure whose actions echo in perpetuity. Hatfield characterizes Rudder’s life as he constantly learned and evolved during his formative period, World War II service, and post-war civilian career.



Rudder knew his passion for coaching. He accepted a high school coaching and teaching job in Brady before hearing the salary. Though assigned to teach subjects he barely passed in college, he remained positive as he worked intentionally and continuously to improve his teaching abilities.

His wife observed that he “burned the midnight oil” while “preparing for his classes” even after accruing four years of teaching experience. His efforts paid future dividends since several of his students would excel as teachers, professors, and doctors.

Rudder took interest in supporting and instilling a work ethic in his athletes on and off the field. A former player highlighted Rudder’s discipline and educational demands saying that,

“whatever he did, he was fair about it, and it didn’t make any difference if he liked you or not; he’d help you, but he expected you to do your part. We tried not to get behind because we knew he wouldn’t pass us, and we wouldn’t be able to play.” Another former player said that Rudder was “most of all, a motivator…. He made us rough, tough, and ready. When we went on the field we thought we were better than the other guy….He was a hard man in certain ways…, but he was a gentle man in other ways.”

Another athlete remembered,

“if you went to him and asked him for advice or for help, you got it. I came from a broken home, and it was pretty rough at times. He always helped me.”

Rudder’s dogged persistence, relentless self-improvement, and rigid adherence to principles repeatedly surfaced in his actions. When the head football coaching position opened at Tarleton College in 1938, Rudder focused more on building his case for the position than any other job in his life.

Yet, he refused to abandon his principles to gain G. Rollie White’s support for his appointment, preferring to write letters to the selection board. Eventually, White, a close friend of Rudder’s in-laws and a member of Texas A&M’s board of directors, decided to provide crucial support even though Rudder refused to transfer his financial accounts to White’s bank.

Rudder’s role in training and developing individuals would remain prevalent throughout his life. Fortuitous connections made through his own networking and that of his future wife, Margaret “Chick” Williamson, would serve him well much later in life.


Rudder worked his way through school learning the value of saving and differed benefits. He and his wife’s life savings totaled $120 when they married.  The Rudders would never forget their conservative roots and never lived opulently after gaining a financial windfall from Chick’s father. Throughout his life, Rudder actively managed the public image for his organizations and himself.

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Recognizing his status in the U.S. Army Reserves would quickly translate into active duty, Rudder decisively prepared to depart. Chick said —

“that he sold our home before he got his orders and without telling me what he had done.”

1st  Lt. James E. Rudder reported for active duty on June 18, 1941. Foreshadowing his future success, his commanders promoted him to captain the next day. The 2nd  Infantry Division sent him to learn “what Reserve officers need to know before they are put on the job with troops.” Finding himself as a student again, Rudder aggressively learned everything he could during training.

Rudder then completed a weapons training course in Georgia that lasted till late October. He and Chick moved back to a small room in a shared apartment where they heard the December 7, 1941 announcement of an attack on Pearl Harbor. Rudder immediately knew he would double-down on training to fight a long, bloody war.

Following several infrastructure protection assignments, Rudder received a transfer to the 83rd Infantry Division’s planning staff for operations and training. This posting proved a turning point in Rudder’s life. Captain Rudder attended the army’s Command and General Staff School to learn tactical doctrine and army procedures.

The school improved the officer’s abilities to serve in various executive capacities and advance in rank. Rudder would implement this knowledge into a training regime that would garner recognition from top commanders.

Major Rudder, promoted while in transit, finished the school in February 1943 and returned to the division to command training. Aligning with Rudder’s previous experiences in coaching, the author writes,

“Lt. Gen. Ben Lear believed every soldier should have disciplined and realistic training that emphasized teamwork, initiative, problem-solving, strength, and endurance.”

The general prescribed Ranger-type training for each division under his command. Lear’s successor,  Lt. Gen. Lloyd R. Fredendall,  had recently returned from North Africa where William O.  Darby’s Rangers had fully impressed him. Lt.Gen. Fredendall inspected the 83rd Infantry Division and left convinced that “Rudder’s Ranger training program was the best he had seen.”

Meanwhile, the newly organized 2nd Ranger Battalion at Camp Forrest “was not living up to expectations and considered a ‘rag-tag, orphan mob in want of military bearing and discipline.’”  Fredendall instructed his aide to contact Rudder’s commanding officer, Col. Van Brunt, to discuss the 2nd  Army Ranger Battalion’s future training. Col. Van Brunt replied,

“We’ve got a fine officer for the job. He is a Ranger and we consider him the best Major in the division. He is the only man for the job.”

Rudder’s hard work and intelligence as a training officer in the 83rd  Division paid off. Rudder eagerly volunteered to command the 2nd  Ranger Battalion. He later said, “when a general asks you to volunteer for a job, you just volunteer.” However, Rudder would later resist President Johnson’s efforts to recruit him for presidential committees.

In his typical collegial, collaborative fashion, Rudder informally gathered the men around to introduce himself. He sat them down and simply said,

“Men, I’m your new battalion commander. I’ve come here so you can teach me how to be a Ranger. Company commanders, take charge of your companies.”

Rudder strove to distance himself from the former commander who “believed that men in Ranger training should live under difficult conditions.” Rudder set about identifying and solving the problems affecting his subordinates’ welfare and morale.

Additionally, he initiated his trademark open-door gripe sessions where he encouraged the men to state their complaints, suggest improvements, or just speak their mind. Acting on what he heard proved to the men these sessions were not just for show. For example, hearing complaints about the food, he sent the cooks to cooking school and sent them again when the complaints continued.

Just like Rudder’s students and athletes, the soldiers realized he genuinely cared about their welfare while demanding superb physical performance and appropriate conduct. Further, the soldiers observed that Rudder held himself to the same standard he demanded of them.

After a speed march, 1st Lt. Ralph E. Goranson saw “Rudder cutting off his bloody socks and bandaging his feet” and “also noticed Rudder was with them on the next march.”

Unfortunately, his soldiers failed to live up to Rudder’s expectations and angered him greatly. Senior officers from Fredendall’s headquarters reprimanded Rudder for “the Rangers’ lack of military discipline.” Rudder’s “concerned about your welfare” leadership focus swiftly ended as he adapted his leadership style to more effectively accomplish his goals.

He demanded someone “step forward and take him on in a fight.” No one challenged him. Rudder finally impressed upon them his commitment to forge the battalion into an elite fighting unit.

A few Rangers returned from fighting in North Africa to advise Rudder about training. They emphasized physical fitness, endurance, and mental toughness. Drawing from their experiences, Rudder tested his men with   ten- or twelve- mile speed marches. Some marches lasted longer, with one seventy- mile march in three days with full packs. He enforced discipline strictly to minimize future losses.

“If a man fell out, that was the end unless he had a very good excuse.”

After three weeks under Rudder’s command, the 2nd Battalion still failed to match his former unit’s marching pace. Rudder told his soldiers,

“First, I’m going to make men out of you. Then, I’m going to make soldiers out of you and, then, I’m going to make Rangers out of you.”

Emphasizing practice as you play and teamwork, Rudder punished the company for the transgressions of a few to test his men.

Every Ranger volunteered to join the unit and could therefore quit. Relentlessly separating the wheat from the chaff, Rudder announced after one month, “if you don’t want to belong, transfer out.” His first two months saw 16 officers and 227 enlisted leave. To form the best fighting unit, Rudder actively recruited the best people he could find.

Recognizing the importance of an individual’s character, he often asked candidates what sport they had played and if they had participated in Boy Scouts. “New recruits were arriving, and the hardy men who remained could see that he had the battalion on an upward trend. Rudder had winning ways, but he winnowed by the ‘ruthless elimination of the less rugged.’”

Rudder continued to adapt his tactics to new situations and trained his men to think independently and outside the box. During his third month of command, his unit spent 12 days in Florida for amphibious training, “a subject so neglected in his previous training that he could not spell the word.”

Utilizing the Ranger’s strength and endurance training, Rudder planned an unconventional, unthinkable attack. His men would carry their rafts across barrier islands instead of the routes the Civil Defense Forces believed the Germans would use to invade. The Rangers succeeded in quietly infiltrating the town. “The commandant of the school, naval captain Clarence Gulbranson, was proud of the Rangers and declared them the best trainees ever.” Rudder rewarded his soldiers with night passes the next day.

However, the Rangers’ rambunctious behavior forced Rudder to court-martial several of the revelers. Arguing in their defense, Rudder pointed to their pending departure to the front lines as a mitigating factor. While their actions were out of line, he took responsibility and requested the right to mete out punishments.

Understanding the critical value of surrounding himself with exceptional people,  Rudder continued winnowing his troops and recruiting proactively as they traveled to their final stateside training course. This helped him recruit two key personnel, Dr. Walter E. Block the medical officer, and Harvey Cook the battalions operations and intelligence officer, just before Rudder’s Rangers deployed to Britain.

Conscious of every minute detail in both business and personal matters,  Rudder completed arrangements for his brother to learn of his potential death by an impersonal telegram or knock on the door from an unknown army officer and chaplain.  He wanted his brother to comfort Chick while delivering the devastating news.


As soon as Lt. Col. Rudder, promoted just prior to departing the U.S., stepped off the troop ship, he resumed recruiting for his command. Army Ranger Maj. Max F. Schneider, a combat veteran with a brilliant record, met the battalion to escort them to their next training site.

He was assigned to the battalion before it arrived in England. Rudder knew little about Schneider and studied him with special interest to make his own assessment. Ultimately, Rudder replaced Pete Staples, his executive officer, with Schneider.

Rudder repeatedly proved he had an eye for assessing talent and delegating responsibilities to subordinates who strove to earn Rudder’s respect. He had dispatched a hand selected advance party months before the battalion departed.

Without receiving additional orders from Rudder, the advance party successfully prepared their assigned English town for the battalion’s arrival. They eagerly awaited Rudder’s arrival for confirmation of a job well done.

Rudder’s actions also showed he paid close attention to constituencies that did not necessarily matter. He often helped solve the locals’ problems even though it was not his job. In one instance, a British army officer on leave to spend time with his dying son approached Rudder to mitigate training noise. Instead of ignoring him or conducting operations elsewhere, Rudder declared, “we’ve got the stuff” that might help the child. Dr. Block administered a new drug that saved the boy.

Around Christmas, Rudder wrote Chick regarding the battalion’s Christmas plan for the children of Bude. After the war, a company commander remembered how Rudder “made it clear that this was to be the party of all parties for local children. … During the run- up to Christmas, Rudder paid as much attention to planning the party as he did to training for D-Day.” The party also boosted unit morale, Rudder wrote it was “…difficult to say [who] had the greatest fun, the kids or our boys.”

He continued the gripe sessions he initiated during training in the U.S. and would rely on while president of Texas A&M University to tackle problems without “airing [the university’s] dirty linen.” He maintained strict but fair discipline, punishing the entire battalion if one ranger arrived late to the formation.

For example, “in one of Rudder’s periodic gripe sessions, a young Ranger rose to say: “Sir, most everyone has been issued a watch and I don’t have one. When can I expect to get a watch?’ Rudder handed his own watch to the man and asked, ‘How about right now, son?’ The gesture made a memorable impression, and Rudder arranged for every Ranger to have a new Hamilton wristwatch.”

Rudders likeable personality and activist mindset enabled him to work as a chief executive officer without a modern support structure. He continuously extended his job description while maintaining excellence and full engagement in his prior tasks.


“Rudder talked to you softly but firmly, like a big brother. He inspired you to do your best. He was a man you would die for.”

– Ranger Len Lomell

Lt. Col. Rudder led from the front, guaranteeing his spot in history through his personal and his unit’s actions. Beginning with the actions on D-Day, the 2nd  Rangers Battalion’s blood and sacrifice sealed its reputation as an elite fighting force unique to its era.

As Rudder often noted, “an outsider cannot comprehend” the war forged bonds that are “understood only by those of us who have had this privileged experience.” These experiences would shape Rudder’s future life outside the military while earning undying respect by his men, his commanders, and his enemies.


“If Colonel Rudder had not led us in this battle, there would not have been any survivors.”

-Ranger Lou

Lisko’s summary of comrades’ post-war accounts

The 2nd  Ranger Battalion’s actions speak louder than words. Yet, the Rangers’ accounts vividly depict why Rudder is a legend:

Dutch  Vermeer  extolled  Rudder  as  the  steadfast  leader:  “Seeing  Colonel  Rudder control the operation saved our day on Pointe du Hoc. In spite of his wounds, he was in command all the time.”

Reviewing their seemingly untenable situation, Jack Keating, a Ranger in the relief column, “went out to the cliffs and got a look at what they had been through for three days. They’d push inland, and then get pushed back, almost off the cliff s and into the sea. Our colonel, James E. Rudder from Texas, was one of the greatest men that ever lived. He was hit twice on D-Day and refused to be evacuated.”

For his leadership and heroism, the army decorated Rudder with the Distinguished Service Cross, the highest award after the Medal of Honor for gallantry in the face of the enemy. As the battalion stood in formation, Rudder’s citation was read aloud, ending with special recognition of his perseverance while suffering from wounds.

With tears flowing, Rudder called out to the battalion, “This does not belong to me. It belongs to you.” From down in the ranks, a man shouted, “You keep it for us!” Ranger Richard P. Buehre in 1982 wrote, “The instantaneous shouts of approval left no doubt that the men felt he should have it. He stood head and shoulders above everyone else in the eyes of every man who served with him. He thought first of his men, then of his job, and never of himself.”

Commanding all the Rangers involved in  Operation  Overlord, Rudder lobbied Maj.  Gen. Clarence  R. Huebner for permission to accompany the last Ranger assault group.  Huebner agreed, recognizing “that Rudder should be where he could see and sense the ebb and flow of the fast-moving tactical operation. His intuition and his confidence to act on hunches—his feel for situations and perceptions of men around him—were among his strengths. 

Some men thought his instincts were flawless. ‘He had,’ one said, ‘an uncanny ability to read a situation and know how to cope with it or to capitalize on it.’ Only near the scene of action could he exercise those talents. Stale second-hand reports received on board the headquarters ship, Ancon, with Huebner would not do. Success could depend on minimizing the time-lapse between sensing, deciding, and doing.”

A supportive Rudder steeled the soldiers’ resolve and provided reassurances in a unique way, asking rhetorically “What better way to die than to die for your country?” After landing at Pointe du Hoc, he made a memorable impression on two misdropped paratroopers who were wading towards the Rangers at the bottom of the cliffs. “Shouting ‘We’re Americans!’ they ran up behind an officer, who gave them a quick look and said emphatically, ‘Stick with me!’ The officer was Rudder. Fifty years later, they still remembered ‘Stick with me!’ It was classic Rudder verbal shorthand stating his authority and paternalistic concern.”

While willing to command from the front, Rudder recognized his position at the command post remained critical. After assessing the situation, he climbed the cliffs to reestablish his forward command post 30 minutes later. Likening Rudder’s battlefront command to a coach in a football game, Sgt. Len Lomell remembered “We played it just like a football game. We ran as fast as we could, charging hard and low. We didn’t stop.” Rudder was “thankful to be with men who wouldn’t run away, men who would die, if need be for the good of the team.”

Rudder readily adapted and made decisive decisions under conditions where he encountered incomplete and inaccurate information. For example, at the last minute, Rudder took personal command of Task Force A due to a subordinate’s drunken binge.

“The key to success was the adaptability inherent in exhaustive preparation at all levels of Rudder’s command, beginning with the men he selected to become Rangers. They were prepared for the unexpected.”

The shelling and bombing dramatically altered the landscape, creating obstructions blocking no less than a “worm’s eye view” of the battleground from the command post. Preparing for this possibility, Rudder had studied the surrounding countryside extensively.

He drew from his knowledge of aerial photographs and maps and, most importantly, a detailed British sketch of the pointe to process mental images of the battlefield situation.

While focused on his own situation, Rudder also kept the larger strategic plan in mind. He knew the plan called for Schneider to fight his way to relieve the men on the pointe later in the day. He also understood the importance of securing the Omaha and Utah beachheads against counterattack.

However, he did not know that the German threat to the American foothold at Omaha forced Schneider to stay and defend Omaha. The Ranger’s only carried small amounts of food, water, and ammunition on their backs since two resupply craft were supposed to land with them.

They rapidly exhausted their supplies and resorted to scavenging German equipment because the supplies were lost at sea. He operated under the flawed assumption that help was on the way while making the best of his current situation.

Additionally, Rudder did not know if they had completed their primary objective, the destruction of five artillery pieces that threatened the landing armada and enfilade fire along Omaha Beach. Small bands of Rangers found the artillery cannons replaced by logs the size of telephone poles to simulate the gun barrels.

The German’s had moved the guns, which still posed a dire threat to the invasion forces. The Rangers could have returned to Rudder for instructions or assumed that the guns were fake all along. However, drawing on their training and trusting Rudder completely, each small group moved inland to neutralize the guns on its own initiative.

Finally, Rudder learned about the Ranger’s success in spiking the guns and their improvised roadblocks setup along the coastal road. The only message that reached his superiors was “Located Pointe du Hoc-mission accomplished-need ammunition and reinforcements-many casualties.”

The Satterlee relayed General Hubner’s response three hours later, “No reinforcements available.” Rudder knew his superiors deemed his Task Force on Pointe du Hoc expendable if their sacrifice would assure a successful invasion.

Earlier on Omaha Beach, Rudder’s penchant for continuous personnel reassessment saved many lives. His willingness to consider replacing his own commander with an unknown veteran, Schneider, proved fateful. Drawing on his experiences, Schneider redirected his landing craft assault (LCA) to a section of beach with fewer German defenses than the plan called for.

Unfortunately, the LCA ahead of him continued according to plan. Only 62 out of their 132 men made it to the seawall on the beach. Tech Sgt. Herbert Epstein, next to Schneider in the lead landing craft, later said, “I have always felt that Schneider was the unsung hero of Omaha Beach. He was certainly my hero and I credit him with saving my life and countless others by his savvy and decisiveness.”

Commando  Trevor, a British attaché, wrote an after-action report for Combined  Operations headquarters that praised the Rangers’ assault on Pointe du Hoc:

“So great was the tactical surprise and the verve and dash of the troops that . . . [and] An operation of this sort against a strongly defended coast is only suitable for bold and skillful troops who have had long and careful preparation. The leaders must combine a courageous spirit in the conception of the plan, with the ability to take infinite pains over minor details of the execution.”


Rudder would leave an indelible mark on the French nationals he would encounter. Owing to his critical observation skills, Rudder observed a French volunteer firefighter inadvertently grouped with German prisoners. Rudder immediately returned him to his family.

For this and other actions, the citizens in and around Grandcamp-Maisy, France remember Rudder to this day. They continue to operate a 2nd Ranger museum containing a Texas A&M plaque and artifacts donated by several rangers.

Also, none other than Gen. Omar Bradley noted,

“No soldier in my command has ever wished a more difficult task than that which befell the 34-year-old commander of [the] Provisional Ranger Force. Lieutenant Colonel James E. Rudder, a rancher from Brady, Texas, [who] was to take a force of 200 men, land on a shingled shelf under the face of a 100-foot cliff, scale the cliff, and there destroy an enemy battery of coastal guns.”

Col. Rudder certainly left a lasting impression on Ranger Lt. Edlin. Edlin was recovering from wounds suffered on D-Day in an English hospital. Concerned that he would receive orders to report to a replacement depot upon his release from the hospital, Edlin cajoled an early release.

He then bummed rides all the way to the 2nd Ranger Battalion in France. Rudder “greeted [him] with a big hug and was as happy to see [him] as [Rudder] could possibly be. He said he wanted to talk to [Edlin] before deciding what [they] were going to do [about reorganizing Edlin’s company]. He talked to [Edlin] as an equal. He asked [Edlin] to help him make a decision. It was inconceivable to [Edlin], but he took the advice of a young, 22- year- old lieutenant.”

Later in Le Conquet, France, Lt. Edlin led a 4-man patrol that resulted in the peaceful surrender of 814 German soldiers. While extremely pleased, Rudder emotionally reprimanded Lt. Edlin for risking his life. Lt. Edlin responded, “‘Colonel, what would you have done if you were in my position?’ [Rudder] looked at me with big tears running down his cheeks and said ‘I hope I’d have had nerve enough to [pull the grenade’s pin and demand that the German commanding officer, Lt. Col. Furst, surrender or sentence everyone in the bunker to death].’ He hit me on the back and walked away from me. That was the greatest medal I ever got in my whole life.”

For this action, Rudder recommended Lt. Edlin for the Medal of Honor. Lt. Edlin turned down the Medal of Honor and a one-way ticket back to the U.S. to stay with Rudder’s Rangers.


“If you don’t want war again, you had better get busy on the home front to keep it from happening.”

– James “Earl” Rudder

Rudder continued exhibiting the leadership traits that would solidify his legendary status after the war. Rudder collected many powerful friends throughout his life. Often, he made these connections seemingly at random.

However, other leaders recognized Rudder’s forthright eagerness and commitment to solve tough problems honestly. Texas Governor John Connally and U.S. Congressman J.J. Pickle  “just kind of elected Earl to be a politician. He was a natural and we developed him.”


After the war, Rudder would often say “I was saved for a purpose” and “Not Colonel anymore. I’m just plain Earl Rudder.” He humbly accepted civic responsibility thrust upon him, starting with the job as mayor of Brady.

Letting his actions speak for him, “he did not seek the job; he merely agreed to put his name on the ballot, and he did not campaign. He did not maneuver for control of groups, and he seldom promoted his personal views except on important public issues.”

Rudder was fully engaged in every single project he worked on,  seeing  them  through  to completion even when he lacked authority. For example, Rudder achieved the “best attendance record of any member on the board [State Board of Public Welfare]” during his term. He drove the three hundred mile round trip from Brady to Austin eighteen times.

The Brady Creek flood control effort exemplifies Rudder’s perseverance and characteristic ability to exert influence without authority. Initiating the project while still Brady’s mayor, Rudder continued working on the project for more than twenty years. By the time the project was finished, Rudder was Texas A&M’s president and his friend, Lyndon B. Johnson, was President of the United States of America.

The Brady Creek flood control effort exemplifies Rudder’s perseverance and characteristic ability to exert influence without authority. Initiating the project while still Brady’s mayor, Rudder continued working on the project for more than twenty years. By the time the project was finished, Rudder was Texas A&M’s president and his friend, Lyndon B. Johnson, was President of the United States of America.

A forward-looking Rudder supported LBJ over Coke Stevenson in the 1948 senatorial race due to LBJ’s worldly experiences and international affairs knowledge.  On his own initiative and expense, Rudder took charge of Senator Johnson’s political organization in his area.

Senator Johnson wrote Rudder, “I want to work with you on all matters to the interest of West Texas, so please call them to my attention as they arise. I will call on you for advice.” In 2002, retired U.S. Congressman Pickle recalled Rudder as “LBJ’s West Texas representative …. committed to helping Johnson. He did not go up and down the streets. He was not a backslapper, but we used his name, and he helped us find the right people and get committees organized. Just the fact that Earl Rudder was on LBJ’s team helped out one hell of a lot. He stayed with us. He was loyal.”

In 1952, Rudder decided not to run for a third term, declaring, “[his] decision not to seek office again is based on [his] firm belief that no individual should monopolize any public office.” Additionally, Rudder upheld his integrity by refusing to ‘pull one string” for his promotion to General as a reservist.

He explicitly requested to gain rank based on merit alone. The Joint Chiefs of Staff secretary confirmed this in a letter addressed to Rudder stating, “concerning the status of your promotion, General Ryder was informed that you had specifically asked that no intervention be made in your behalf.”

Major Joe Neal, a communications professor and experienced University of Texas administrator, worked under Rudder in the reserves. Holding a Ph.D. in government, he wrote about Rudder:  

“We knew him by reputation and simply having him there made everyone do their best. There was a lot of talk among the ranks about him. Earl always had a little smile on his lips and he was pleasant, but it was no sign of weakness. He seemed soft and easy-going, but you had a feeling there was steel underneath. Everyone around him worked at maximum capacity just because of the force of his personality. Everyone I knew was doing their best not to cross him but to gain favor with him. He was not a man to cross. He was a strong man, no doubt about that.”

Rudder never feared to speak his mind, even to the President of the United States. Eventually, President Johnson would tell his advisors “I want you to ask Earl Rudder about this.”


While voters negatively associated Rudder with his political friends, acquaintances, both friend, and foe who knew him personally would attest to his honesty and moral character. Considered a “paragon of integrity and heroism” by Texas secretary of state Thomas M. Reavley, Rudder would transform the scandal riddled, state-sponsored Veterans Land Program. An eager Rudder felt there was no time to waste in cleaning up the program.

Characteristic of his collaborative and inclusive tendencies, he immediately reassured the Land Office employees, saying, “I’ll need the help of each and every one of you in getting the job done.” However, drawing on painful lessons learned, Rudder also knew he must conduct an audit to investigate discrepancies. On behalf of the Texas citizens, he promised to transform the Veterans Land Program from “chaos and confusion to an honest, orderly, and well-regulated business-like program.”

Rudder would tender his resignation to pursue an appointment at Texas A&M. Satisfied with his performance, he wrote “I can report to you in all sincerity that with the help of many dedicated Texas citizens and faithful state employees this mission [to clean up the Veterans Land Program] has been accomplished.”

By accepting Texas A&M’s Vice President position, Rudder “believed [he] [could] be of greatest service to my state and nation.” Later, Texas A&M President Rudder reaffirmed this assertion by turning down an ambassadorship to Pakistan and a proposal for Rudder to run for Texas governor.

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Rudder joined a university in crisis in 1958. The Board of Directors wanted Rudder “to take charge.”  True to his style, Rudder looked towards  A&M’s future rather than its past.  

He laid the foundation for A&M’s current success through his attention and concern towards various constituencies; grant support from powerful friends in Washington; collaborative environment; emphasis on Corp of Cadet academics; advancement of pioneering science, engineering, and technology; deft political wrangling.

By learning Texas A&M from inside out, Rudder knew he would earn more respect from the faculty, staff, and student body. He passed his first test when he successfully managed his image at a weeklong university presidential administration seminar.

When discussing the challenges of their jobs, another president pronounced his careful observations led him to conclude that “‘none of us are old broken down generals or retired politicians. We have all come up through the ranks.’ Rudder, having schmoozed  so  well  that  the  man  thought  he  came  from  an  academic  background,  laughed  as  he exclaimed, ‘It looks like you’ve got me on all counts!’”

President Rudder would provide clarity, erasing faculty and staff apprehension due to previous uncertainty and ambiguity. They learned and appreciated his decisive approach and straightforward honesty. Learning on the job, he did not pretend to know everything and asked for input from all levels. At the same time, he showed he held himself accountable as well.

Rudder feared if he failed and “If A&M does not change, it will become less important than the smallest junior college.” He went to great lengths to foster cordial relationships with the staff in all of the colleges. He knew making changes through edicts was grossly inadequate. He worked every day for acceptance from “those Ph.D. types.” Word began to spread that “he was reasonable, firm, and fair, with his full attention focused on the development of Texas A&M.”

Through Rudder’s connections, initiatives, spirit, and full engagement, the university developed into a world-class research institution. These early achievements included building the Cyclotron, Nuclear Engineering department, Sea Grant, Space Grant and NASA research.

Rudder’s admirable personality did not mean he commanded the consensus view. He made controversial decisions regarding, racial and gender integration and censorship of the Battalion. Even though Rudder failed to recognize the deleterious effects of censoring the student newspaper and engendering opposition from the Old Army Aggies, he left an indelible imprint on the university.

In the end, even Thomas M. DeFrank, the Battalion’s chief editor who claimed Rudder fired him “since he crossed Rudder,” extolled  Rudder’s vision. Giving the spring commencement speech in 2007, DeFrank esteemed Rudder: “As I walked around … General Rudder’s presence was everywhere. His vision of what Texas A&M could be is the underpinning of today’s world-class university and all of us should honor his memory. I certainly do.”

Rudder literally worked himself to death for the university and the students. Seven years before his death, he stopped to change a tire in the rain for a young women driving between Texas A&M and Austin. Noticing her good Samaritan wore a coat and tie, she asked the man what he did for a living. Rudder humbly responded, “‘I work all around [Texas A&M’s] campus,’ leaving her with the impression that he had something to do with buildings and grounds.”

`Till his dying breath in 1970 and well into the future, James “Earl” Rudder, influences the modern world.  Rudder’s leadership traits and character,  exemplified by the Titan’s 17 Personal Teachings, propelled him beyond mere significance to a hallowed position as an historical legend. would like to thank the Titans of Investing for allowing us to publish this content. Titans is a student organization founded by Britt Harris. Learn more about the organization and the man behind it by clicking either of these links.

Britt always taught us Titans that Wisdom is Cheap, and principal can find treasure troves of the good stuff in books. We hope only will also express their thanks to the Titans if the book review brought wisdom into their lives.

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