Imagine at the age of twenty, being one of the U.S. troops who helped to liberate an entire continent. "I was scared, I had a lot of anxiety I didn't know what I was getting into," says ninety-one year-old Joel "Jody" Lander.
When Lander was eighteen he had aspirations of joining the Air Force. Those fell flat during a routine test, he recalls, while sitting in his dining room at the Querencia at Barton Creek. The person administering it told him he had a lisp. "I was very disappointed."
A month later though Lander was drafted. That's when he volunteered to be a paratrooper, "I had seen a short subject of the picture shows and that looked very glamorous to me." A year or so later, Lander was on a plane bound for Normandy. "I was scared, had a lot of anxiety i didn't know what i was getting into," he says of the moments leading up to his jump into Normandy with the 82nd Airborne.
"We hit a lot of anti-aircraft fire. You could see the traces coming up and hear them hitting the plane. I thought that we'd be shot down," he says of flying in on the morning of June 6th. The Dallas native was one of the first paratroopers to land. "I wanted to get into the war at one time I was afraid it might end before I got into it once I got into it, I was afraid it was going to end before I got out of it."
After Normandy, PFC Lander continued to fight until World War II ended. "It was one of the best days of my life," he says of finally coming home after being over there for two years. "There are better ways of settling disputes rather fighting but that war we had no choice."
Seventy-one years later, the vet and his family traveled to France for the DDay Anniversary this last June. "It goes on for a week," he says of the celebrations. Likening them to Mardi Gras. "They have all types of demonstrations, ceremonies."
Though he had been to five others, this one was even more special, "I signed photographs and autographs and flags." The attention, he says, was welcomed with a smile. Sharing dozens of images, he is pictured with men dressed as paratroopers, women dressed as the famous "Andrews Sisters", and a real U.S. General. Something that made him incredibly proud, "I never talked to a general in my life because I was a P.F.C."
During his trip he wore a "jump" jacket made by a friend, "that's a replica of the uniform we wore." He planted a tree. And he was awarded France's Legion of Honor Medal, for his service to France. It's the country's highest honor to a non-citizen. But the highlight of his trip, he says, seeing for the first time in daylight, a farm house in Ravenel. "This is where we spent the first night," he says pointing to it in a photo, "We spent DDay night after walking all day to find out where we were."
The Germans had used it as their headquarters but abandoned it as the Troops landed. Lander was amongst other Dallasites in his section. Because of that, they had a special name for the place, "The little Alamo," he smiles broadly. "It kind of looked like the Alamo and we were completely surrounded by Germans that night," he continues, "We thought we we were going to end like the Alamo but we didn't."
No, they didn't. Instead, they freed a town.
"I learned a lot," Mister Lander says of serving in the War. "I'm a better person for it. I realize when things go bad, things could be a lot worse. And even on my bad days, I appreciate those because I had worse days."
Days that would make him. and thousands of his brothers American heroes.
"I wouldn't trade my experience in the Army for almost anything."
And he says health permitting, he will travel to Normandy for the seventy-fifth anniversary in 2019.