When Bobby Davis visited Normandy Beach in July, he collected a vile of sand, never dreaming the significance it would have for one World War II veteran.
It was nearly 70 years ago when Floyd Landers, a member of Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army, landed on Normandy Beach and nearly lost his life.
Under heavy fire, Landers laid down near a dead soldier and tried to pass as shot.
“They were under tremendous machine gun fire as well as many hand grenades,” said Landers’ daughter, Lisa Boyle. “There were hundreds of dead or wounded soldiers laying all over the beach in and out of the water.”
This trick saved Landers’ life, but it would not be the last time he narrowly escaped during his deployment.
Davis, an ex-Marine, knew nothing of Landers’ service and had not even met him when he walked out to the sandy shore in Normandy. A military history buff, Davis had decided on a day off from the Kiwanis International Convention in Geneva, to visit the infamous beach.
On a whim, he collected a small amount of sand and when he returned to Payson, put the vile on his desk.
“It meant something to me,” he said. “It was a tribute.”
Then on Veterans Day, Davis heard over the radio that an event at the high school would honor all veterans, including Landers, who had fought on Normandy Beach.
“I thought, ‘Wow, what a perfect gift to present to Landers because he had fought there and was wounded five times during that campaign.’”
On Dec. 12, Davis presented the sand to Landers at a Marine Corps League luncheon at Tiny’s Restaurant.
With tears in his eyes, Landers accepted the sand and plaque commemorating his service — just a week before his 94th birthday.
“The sand meant a lot to me, but for him, it really meant a lot,” Davis said. “I was honored to give it to him.”
The commemorative moment was decades and miles away from the day Landers had landed in Normandy.
When his unit’s landing craft sunk, Landers nearly drowned trying to swim ashore with his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).
“He took off walking on the floor of the bloody ocean and each time he thought he couldn’t hold his breath any longer, he would come upon a sand bar where he could stick his head out and get a breath of air,” Boyle said.
When he finally pulled himself onto shore, gunfire nearly took him out.
After surviving that ordeal, his unit nearly made it into Brest, France when on Aug. 10, 1944, they were pinned down in a potato field by machine gun fire, Boyle said.
“He being the BAR man was told to go ahead and see if he could find where the shots were coming from,” she said.
“He was crawling along on his knees getting ready to fire when he found he had a bad round in his rifle. At that time, he was hit by five shots, one in the hip, which knocked a chunk from his hip bone, one under his left eye, a knick in his forearm, another to his left side and then a direct hit that blew his right elbow out.”
For hours, Landers packed mud into his wounds to stop the bleeding.
“At dark, he made his way to an airfield, which they had taken a few days earlier,” Boyle said.
“Three days later, he saw a field ambulance coming up the road, stumbled out and sat in the middle of the road to get the driver’s attention.”
When the ambulance stopped, the driver told Landers there was no room with four men badly burned in a tank fire aboard.
“Floyd told the driver there was room if he had to ride on the hood, so they opened the back door and he fell on the floor,” Boyle said.
Landers was taken to a field clinic and later to a hospital in Cherbourg, France.
In 1945, he was honorably discharged.
Boyle said her family is grateful for the plaque and tribute.
Davis presented the sand to Landers during a Marine Corps League Rim Country Detachment lunch thanks to Ret. Col. Bill Sahno and its members, she said.
“Floyd was one of the lucky men that survived that horrible landing and went on to liberate France and ultimately the world from the evil grip of Hitler and his vicious Nazi army,” she said.
“My father was very touched by the tribute he received from these very thoughtful patriots.”