AUSTIN (KXAN) — This Memorial Day a 90-year-old Austin veteran can vividly remember where he was on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Jody Lander served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne.
He and his fellow soldiers landed near the beaches of Normandy before dawn after taking off from England on board a C-17.
“We were very heavily loaded,” Lander said. “We had two parachutes, trenching tools, we had food rations for about three days. We had guns. We were just loaded with ammunition.
“That plane ride over, I’ll never forget it. I don’t think a word was spoken. Every once in a while, someone lit up a cigarette, but not a word was spoken.”
Once over France, the Nazis tried to shoot down their plane.
“That was when I realized war was not all the glory that John Wayne’s shows indicated because the anti-aircraft fire was intense,” Lander recalled.
With all the flak, the pilot of the C-17 became disoriented.
“We did not hit our drop zone. But we were somewhat successful because the Germans didn’t know where we were,” Lander said. “And we didn’t know where we were. Some of the guys who hit the drop zone drowned because the Germans had flooded the drop zone. I landed fine.”
But he had trouble getting out of his parachute.
“I was just flat scared. I was shaking so much that I couldn’t unbuckle the buckle.”
Once unbuckled, the 20-year-old Texan faced a grim reality.
“We saw the first horrors of war,” he said. “There was a French family. They had a direct hit from a bomb. It killed the little boy, little girl and I assume the mother and father. We helped the grandfather who was wounded in the leg and walking around in shock. Right when it turned dark, the Germans attacked. And we shot back and forth. And we had one fellow killed in our group, and that was the only one.”
Pvt. Lander also had a close call with a German hand grenade.
“It was thrown at this friend of mine, and it landed by his feet. He picked it up and threw it back.”
The Americans survived the close call.
After the war, the group of about 20 who were on the C-17 parachute plane vowed to stay in touch.
They did, until their last meeting just a few years ago.
“There were about 20 of us. And I’m the only one left … I went to the last reunion. It was very, very emotional. I hate to see grown men cry, but a lot of us did when we disbanded.”
The Dallas native was remarkably lucky during the war.
“I got out without a single scratch.”
How does he summarize his three years in the Army?
“It’s just emotional, very emotional,” he said. “I feel sad. I feel sad. I feel proud. And I feel sad.”
Lander went on to have a successful career as a chemical engineer in Baytown.
He and his wife now live at Querencia at Barton Creek retirement community in Southwest Austin. They enjoy spending time with their six children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.