Retired Maj. Norman Landis, age 90, describes his military journey and career as a Rakkasan as “an adventure” of a lifetime. Reflecting back on his Army service and his Family, Landis said there is much to be thankful for.
“I was born in Norfolk, Virginia, on March 12, 1930,” Landis said. “My father was in the Coast Guard and was stationed there at the time. I started school in Miami, Florida, when he was transferred there. I also attended school in Fort Lauderdale and in Boston. I was in Boston when World War II started. During that time, my father went to the Pacific and commanded a landing barge in the Philippines [campaign]. I’m very proud of my father’s service.”
After his father returned home and retired from the service, Landis’ Family moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where he attended high school until the 10th grade, when he dropped out to work. Landis worked for a furniture company, but his dream was to join the military.
“I joined the Army on July 30, 1947,” Landis said. “I was 17 years old. My dad signed for me, my mother wouldn’t. I joined at MacDill Air Force Base [Florida], at the time it was MacDill Army Base, before the Air Force really even existed. I went to basic training and advanced individual training at Fort Jackson [South Carolina]. While I was in basic training, I took the Army GED test and passed it well enough that the Florida Board of Education gave me a high school diploma, which I thought was great.”
After AIT, Landis went to Camp Stoneman, California, before he boarded a troop ship and went to Japan as part of the occupying force where he joined the 11th Airborne Division. He volunteered for parachute training, and in January 1948 he was assigned to the 674th Airborne Field Artillery Battalion as a radio operator.
“For the middle of February and the first part of March, I was in Jump School,” Landis said. “I qualified as a paratrooper, I got my jump wings, and I graduated as a gliderist from glide school at the same time. In April, I left jump school and I was sent to the water safety instructor school with the Red Cross in Sendai Japan. When I graduated, I was assigned as the post swimming instructor.”
In October 1948, Landis joined the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment in Sapporo, Japan. Landis was assigned a military police platoon and was promoted to specialist. The following April, he returned to the 674th Airborne Field Artillery Battalion and in June, the 11th Airborne Division returned to the United States to Camp Campbell – now Fort Campbell – where he became a message center chief in the 674th Airborne Field Artillery Battalion.
Landis met his wife of 70 years, Edna, on the Fourth of July, shortly after arriving at Camp Campbell. They married Dec. 2, 1949. He said he knew from the moment he saw Edna that he was going to marry her. Together they have three daughters, Karen Brown, Janet Rudolph and Norma Parker.
“I was promoted as a buck sergeant in January 1950,” Landis said. “In July 1950, I reported to the replacement depot for discharge. While I was there, President Truman tacked an extra year on all discharges so we couldn’t get out. A recruiting sergeant came by and asked if I would re-enlist as the communications chief of the 11th Medical Battalion. This was my biggest career decision ever, and I accepted it.”
Three months later, he was promoted to staff sergeant.
Landis continued his Army training in early 1951 at Jump Master School, and was eventually reassigned to Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1952 as the assistant regimental communications chief of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 11th Airborne Division.
“I took my wife and our new baby, Karen, with me,” he said. “I went through regimental communications school, where I was promoted to sergeant first class and took over as chief of regimental communications. In December 1953, I went to Alaska for a field exercise. I was recommended to become an officer by my regimental commander. I went before a board of officers and they made me a second lieutenant.”
The 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment moved to Germany in December 1955, and Landis and his growing Family moved again. By November 1956, Landis joined the Signal Corps and was promoted to first lieutenant where he served as the executive officer of A Company, 34th Signal Battalion in Stuttgart, Germany.
Landis and his Family returned to the United States on the USS Independence, and he returned to the 187th and Fort Campbell as a signal officer. The Landises remained at Fort Campbell until December 1960, when he went to flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
While in flight school, Landis suffered a seizure and was given the option to drop back a class or return to active duty on jump status.
“I decided to go back to active duty,” he said. “I was assigned to Korea as the commanding officer with the 38th Artillery Brigade of the 581st Signal Company. I commanded the 581st Signal Company in 1961 and 1962. Then I was reassigned to Fort Hood, Texas. My three daughters loved Fort Hood, they learned to water ski there.”
Landis, now a major, served as the commander A Company, 54th Signal Battalion at Ford Hood until 1964. The Family then went to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, where he served as an Army security agent in Southeast Asia. While there, Landis traveled to Vietnam and Thailand for work. While in the Philippines, he reconnected with the former commander of the 101st Airborne Division, Gen. William C. Westmoreland, who was then the commander of Military Assistance Command-Vietnam. Landis describes Westmoreland as the greatest Rakkasan who ever lived.
“I thought the world of him, I really did,” Landis said. “I tried to model myself after him. I had worked for him as a Rakkasan when he was the commanding general, and he went on exercises with the Rakkasans. I was his signal officer.”
Landis’ last assignment was with the 501st Signal Battalion at Fort Campbell where he served as assistant division signal officer, executive officer as well as battalion commander for three months before his retirement Aug. 1, 1967.
He and his Family chose to stay in the Fort Campbell area, where they always wanted to be.
“I worked at Wright Chevrolet in Clarksville and Prudential Insurance Company,” Landis said. “In 1975, I quit everything and moved out to our cabin, now our home which we added onto, on Lake Barkley/Cumberland River. I’ve lived here for 45 years. We love it. We’ve had a good life, a fantastic life.”
Landis said his favorite part of being in the Army was serving the United States of America.
“I represented the United States of America everywhere I went,” he said. “I love my country, I love being a Korean veteran, I love being a Vietnam veteran. I love my Family, I have three beautiful daughters, seven grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.”
His wife, Edna, has been experiencing health problems, but fortunately she is well taken care of by Landis and their Family.
“There is no way I could explain all of the support she has given me over 70 years, especially while I was in the military,” Landis said. “She was my support. She raised my Family while I was gone, and she did a fantastic job. The hardest thing in my life right now is I’m starting to lose her.”
As Landis enjoys retirement in his “personal paradise” with his wife and Family, he said he is fortunate to have lived such a great life.
“We’ve had a lot of adventure in life,” he said. “Fort Campbell and the Army have given me everything. There is no way I could ever thank them enough. I’m so proud of my service.”