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Resident of Querencia at Barton Creek Relives Storming the Beaches of Normandy on D-Day
“I was twenty years old,” said Lander. “We dropped into Normandy about 2:30 in the morning of D-Day. I was scared.
Lander went out to the plane at 9:30 at night. It was still daylight then as England was on double daylight savings time and it didn’t get dark until about midnight. Lander and the other men waddled onto the plane because they were wearing so much equipment.
“I was in good shape, but I had on so much stuff I almost couldn’t get in the plane,” said Lander. “They had to help us up the steps to get on board.”
“We carried enough food rations for three days, had on gas masks, had our rifles and had several hand grenades in the pockets of our jumpsuits,” said Lander. “We had a small backpack with razors, an extra pair of underwear and socks, cigarettes, cigarette lighters and K rations. We had a knife strapped to our leg and a canteen of water. We had several bandoliers of bullets, had on two parachutes, a main chute and a spare, and we had a digging tool.”
The men got into the plane, a C-47 that carried about 18 men. In addition to the equipment the men were wearing, Lander recalls that they put temporary storage on the plane to carry extra food, ammo, machine guns and equipment the men couldn’t carry themselves. The pilot was to release the items when the men jumped and they had parachutes on them so they wouldn’t crash when they hit the ground.
The plane, very heavily loaded, took off about 10:30 at night. Lander thought the plane would never get off the ground because of the weight. They got off and circled for a number of hours. There were planes taking off from all over England. There were 10,000 Allied airplanes in the air that night. Some were bombers softening up the landing zone, some were fighter planes to protect the paratroopers, but most were the planes dropping the paratroopers.
“Our mission was to drop a few miles from the beach landing zone,” said Lander. “We were to drop a few miles inland and seize roads and bridges to prevent German reinforcements from coming up to try to stop the landing invasion.”
The planes had to circle for a long time to rendezvous with all the planes that had taken off. There were so many that they couldn’t all take off from one airport. Lander’s plane circled and rendezvoused with the planes and headed toward the coastline of Normandy.
“We flew between the Jersey and Guernsey Islands and flew into our first flak, which is fire coming up,” said Lander. “That woke us up. We knew it had started. Inside the plane, the guys, even the sarcastic ones, were silent. There was very little talking and almost no noise. Every once in a while you’d see somebody light up a cigarette.”
After passing the islands, they had a few minutes before hitting Normandy. It was a stormy night with low clouds. The Germans couldn’t see the planes, but they could hear them. There was a tremendous amount of anti-aircraft fire. Lander could hear it hitting the planes. Nobody in his plane was hit, but it did hit the plane. When they hit the anti-aircraft fire, the pilot could see the tracers, glowing bullets showing where the fire was going, coming up and had to try to fly around. They were strewn all over the Normandy peninsula and did not hit the drop zone. They flew on for several minutes as the pilot was trying to find the drop zone and couldn’t. The green light came on and it was time to jump.
“It’s not fun jumping out at night because you don’t know exactly when you’re going to hit the ground,” said Lander. “Those old round parachutes went down pretty fast. It was like jumping off a 12 foot platform. You had to relax and not land stiff legged. I relaxed and hit the ground and ended up okay.”
Lander tried to get out of his parachute, but his hand was shaking so bad he couldn’t unbuckle it. He took his knife and cut himself out of the straps.
“When we landed, we didn’t know where we were exactly,” said Lander. “We were strewn all over the place and the Germans knew the invasion had begun. They didn’t know where we had landed, and we didn’t either. They were just as confused as we were. They didn’t know where to send reinforcement troops to try and attack us.”
Lander started walking around trying to find the rest of the people in his plane. He found 15 of the 18 that had jumped. Two were captured, but were later recovered. One jumped near the Germans and had to lay low for a while, but joined the rest of the troops in about a week at headquarters.
When daylight came, the men had maps and ended up near a little town called St. Marcouf. The town was abandoned. Around 6:30 in the morning, the Navy had started the bombardment of the shoreline. Lander was in the bombardment area, so he and the men had to get down in the ditches on the side of the road. They stayed there for about 30 minutes. There they saw the first horror of the war, a French family trying to flee that had been hit by the naval shells.
The men walked all day long. They saw the Germans in the distance, but did not encounter any troops. They picked up American stragglers along the way who had been lost from their troops. Late in the evening, the men found an abandoned farm with a big stone fence around it where they could set up their defense.
“We thought it would be a good place to spend the night,” said Lander. “Just as it got dark, the Germans counterattacked. We shot back and forth all night. We took turns manning the fence and trying to rest. We’d been up for 48 hours at this point. This went on all night until daybreak, and then the Germans stopped shooting. We didn’t know why. We shortly found out the soldiers who had landed on the beach came in and drove the Germans off. We were freed.”
After being freed, the men were opposite Utah Beach. They spent the night on the beach, and the next morning rode a truck to headquarters to prepare for the rest of the war.
In the following September, Lander was sent into Holland to capture some bridges and try to end the war by Christmas of 1945, but it was unsuccessful. He was then sent to fight in the Battle of the Bulge.
“The good Lord was very good to me ‘cause I never got a scratch,” said Lander.
Lander, now 90, was in the service from January 1943 until January 1946. He was drafted while at Texas A&M University. He was recently interviewed by the Red Cross as part of a program that interviews veterans about their individual experiences. The goal is to preserve the stories for future historians. Lander’s two hour DVD and the others are stored at the Library of Congress.
He and his wife live at Querencia at Barton Creek and enjoy spending time with their six children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
ABOUT QUERENCIA AT BARTON CREEK
Querencia at Barton Creek is a premier life care senior living resort located at Barton Creek Boulevard and Chalk Knoll Drive in Austin, Texas, less than a mile from Barton Creek Resort & Club. The 400,000 square-foot senior living resort features 167 independent living residences, including 10 villas, on 38 acres. Residences are available in one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans ranging in size from 830 square feet to more than 2,200 square feet. The Plaza at Querencia features assisted living apartment homes in one- and two-bedroom designs, memory support suites, private nursing rooms for long-term care, and Medicare-certified private suites for short-term rehabilitation.
Querencia at Barton Creek is 501(c)(3) not-for-profit senior living community sponsored by Senior Quality Lif