How Legendary NFL Coach Tom Landry Honed His Fighting Instincts in World War II


Well-known for maintaining cool below stress, the Eighth Air Pressure veteran led the Dallas Cowboys to 2 Tremendous Bowl championships within the Nineteen Seventies.

DO YOU REMEMBER how well the person dressed? That custom-tailored jacket, the peerlessly knotted tie and, at all times, that trademark fedora perched at simply the fitting angle? Do you keep in mind Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry, watching from the sidelines on any given NFL Sunday from 1960 to 1988? In the event you do, then you may also keep in mind the person’s basic demeanor: calm, stoic, concentrating. His gamers may be celebrating the go-ahead landing, however Landry was all enterprise. Preparing for the following sequence, focusing 4 performs forward, the soccer grandmaster who led America’s Group to 2 Tremendous Bowl championships within the Nineteen Seventies. However you’d have had no cause to suspect then that the veteran NFL participant and coach was additionally a veteran of 30 fight bomber missions in World Warfare II, or to have envisioned the unflappable, iron-jawed head coach as a surprised younger pilot within the cockpit of a B-17 bomber.

“I feel the factor that stands out probably the most is that I used to be not ready for all of it,” Landry informed me in a 1981 interview I performed with him for a documentary on the B-17. “I’d been one semester on the College of Texas. I used to be known as up in February of ’44, after I was 19 years previous. And, boy, to go from there—from Mission, Texas—to Europe to fly a bomber… I simply actually didn’t know what was happening. I simply flew my missions, did my job, and got here residence.” That was 4 many years in the past, however I discover I nonetheless consider his story usually—all of the extra so after the current demise of my very own father, who had served as a naval intelligence officer in World Warfare II.

Many who fought within the warfare have recollections they communicate of modestly—if they are often coaxed to inform their tales in any respect. For some these recollections are simply too vivid, coming again to them at night time in horrible desires or, when spoken aloud, informed by means of tears with halting voices. They received a world warfare, got here residence, went to varsity on the G.I. Invoice, and constructed a rustic. And whether or not they communicate of their experiences or preserve a dignified silence, their lives have been formed by the issues they noticed and did at warfare—the issues they lived by means of, which so a lot of their comrades didn’t.


A fresh-faced Tom Landry, aged 19, left school in 1943 after one semester to hitch the U.S. Military Air Forces. (Dallas Historic Society/Tom and Alicia Landry Household Assortment)

THE WAR WAS PERSONAL for Landry in a really painful means. His older brother Robert, whom he idolized, was killed when a B-17 he was ferrying to England exploded over the North Atlantic in September 1942. Robert Landry and his crew have been listed as MIA for a number of weeks; the wait should have been insufferable for his household. Not lengthy after they acquired the fateful telegram round Thanksgiving 1943, Landry was known as up and despatched by means of fundamental and pilot coaching, which had him hopscotching from base to base across the nation: Wichita Falls, San Antonio and Lubbock, Texas; Wilburton, Oklahoma; and at last Sioux Metropolis, Iowa, the place Landry educated to fly the B-17 Flying Fortress. The coaching reworked him from College of Texas-Austin soccer participant Tommie Landry into Second Lieutenant Thomas Wade Landry, 860th Bombardment Squadron, 493rd Bombardment Group, Eighth Air Pressure. From his days studying to fly the four-engine B-17 over America’s heartland to his experiences within the unfriendly skies of Europe, Landry grew to understand the Fortress’s legendary toughness.

Landry trained stateside as a pilot (top, middle row, second from left) before shipping out for England in 1944 to fly for the Eighth Air Force. He spent the remainder of the war flying bombing missions over Europe. (Dallas Historical Society/Tom and Alicia Landry Family Collection)
Landry educated stateside as a pilot (prime, center row, second from left) earlier than transport out for England in 1944 to fly for the Eighth Air Pressure. He spent the rest of the warfare flying bombing missions over Europe. (Dallas Historic Society/Tom and Alicia Landry Household Assortment)

(Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
(Mirrorpix by way of Getty Photographs)

“The B-17 was an ideal airplane,” Landry stated. “It had an incredible wingspan, and you would get a few engines shot out and nonetheless make it again on simply two engines. The B-17 actually saved lots of American boys’ lives. It might get shot up fairly good earlier than it will go down.”

After transport out to England on the refitted luxurious liner Queen Mary, Landry barely had time to be taught his means round his airbase close to Ipswich, northeast of London on the River Orwell. He took the fitting seat on November 21, 1944, flying copilot out of Ipswich to bomb the Leuna Werke artificial oil refinery at Merseburg, in central Germany. Leuna Werke was an important producer of gasoline for the Nazi warfare machine, and as such, was closely defended by greater than 600 antiaircraft batteries. Bomber crews had nicknamed the area “Murdersburg.”

“I by no means noticed something like that,” Landry recalled. “Once we received there, it was only a cloud of black smoke from flak as you headed into the goal. And the flak would pound you round fairly good. It was like flying inside a thundercloud. You’d simply make the run, drop your bombs, and get out of the goal space as shortly as you would.”

Struck by enemy fire, a crippled B-17 of the Eighth Air Force lists downward amid a 1944 bombing raid on Merseburg, Germany. (U.S. Air Force/National Archives)
Struck by enemy hearth, a crippled B-17 of the Eighth Air Pressure lists downward amid a 1944 bombing raid on Merseburg, Germany. (U.S. Air Pressure/Nationwide Archives)

He made it sound so easy: simply drop the bombs and depart the goal space. However a lot extra went into the job. Like Landry’s jaunts to the oil fields in Czechoslovakia—six hours out, six hours again, simply to make a two-minute bomb run in a bumpy, bitterly chilly plane that would flip right into a coffin at a second’s discover. From a vantage level some 40 years later, Landry spoke of these days like simply one other one on the workplace. As we sat in his precise workplace, the place I had interviewed him quite a few instances over the last decade I coated the Cowboys as a sportscaster, I noticed a special aspect of Landry. With a sterling silver Tremendous Bowl trophy gleaming in a single nook, he vividly recalled one story after one other. We wound up spending practically an hour and a half discussing his private warfare recollections.

“We tore up one ’17 fairly good once we ran out of fuel,” Landry famous, describing an eventful bombing mission over Kolin, Czechoslovakia, on April 18, 1945. “Our various airfield was in France, as a result of on the time we didn’t have sufficient fuel left within the tank to make it throughout the Channel to England. So we went to our alternate, and once we received there it was zero visibility—simply completely fogged in. I don’t know what number of a whole lot of planes might need gone down that day looking for their alternate discipline. We have been skimming the treetops and the roofs of the homes, looking for an airfield. We’d find out about the place it was from our navigator; he’d inform the place it was, after which we’d must drop down by means of the fog to seek out the sphere. Nicely, lastly we simply ran out of fuel. We moved everyone to the again of the airplane, lower the motors, and seemed for a discipline to land in. However fields over there are lined with bushes, not fences. We overshot the sphere we picked and went proper into the bushes. The bushes knocked the wings off, and when the airplane stopped, there was a tree trunk sitting a few foot in entrance of us the place we sat as pilots. All people simply received up and walked off the airplane. No one received damage as a result of there was no fuel to blow up.”

MAYBE NOW YOU REMEMBER Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys just a bit higher. Perhaps you keep in mind rooting for, or towards, his group. Both means, perhaps you would by no means perceive how the person might stay so calm as 70,000 followers screamed on the prime of their lungs and his gamers tried to execute his advanced Flex protection, the large males up entrance shifting to fill the gaps within the line as a substitute of chasing the ball—the precise reverse of what their instincts informed them to do. In a time way back, below rather more stress, Landry needed to combat his personal instincts throughout the return from one other bombing run over the Netherlands.

As he did for practically all his 30 missions, Landry flew as copilot. (When his plane was designated to steer the mission, the group commander took the fitting seat, relegating Landry to the highest turret gun.) However this time, the engines shut down, and Landry and his command pilot issued orders to their crewmates to bail out. The crew ready to leap, and the hatch was opened. However simply earlier than he left the cockpit, the quick-thinking Landry tried one last-ditch maneuver: he reached down and flipped a gasoline combination change, which immediately introduced the engines again to life. The flight again to Ipswich resumed with everyone nonetheless on board.

So actually… how tense do you get on third-and-two?

On mission days the pilots crowded into the briefing room at Ipswich, a Quonset hut the place giant maps on the entrance displayed the day’s chosen goal space. Landry and his crew chief, Captain Kenneth Sainz, have been briefed on the plan of assault together with the 860th Bomb Squadron’s different crews. Earlier than the briefing started, the pilots bantered backwards and forwards. It might have appeared lighthearted, however a lot of these within the briefing room on any given morning may not be there the following day, nor any day thereafter. That thought was by no means removed from the pilots’ minds, the 19, 20, 21-year-old boys quickly turning into males. Greater than as soon as, the wait to rise up into the skies was worse than the flying itself.

In December 1944 the Battle of the Bulge raged in and round Bastogne, Belgium, the place German forces had surrounded town. The dreadful winter climate—the worst in many years—prevented Allied plane from putting. Lieutenant Basic George S. Patton, there together with his Third Military, ordered his chaplain to write down a prayer asking for good climate. Landry could not have recognized in regards to the prayer, however the dangerous climate was all too acquainted to him.

“Through the Battle of the Bulge I’ll wager we briefed as many as 20 days in a row, however we couldn’t get off the bottom. You’d exit, you’d heat up your ship, taxi out, after which they’d scrub the mission. You couldn’t see your hand in entrance of your face. An excessive amount of fog. We simply stored going by means of the identical factor time and again, till we lastly received as much as bomb. And even then, we have been bombing by means of clouds at targets. However that reminiscence, of all these mornings we received up early and hoped we might rise up to assist the Allies who have been surrounded, and we couldn’t even get off the bottom.” Landry’s quiet voice went silent, and he seemed off into the space.

In soccer phrases it might be stated that Tom Landry received into the combat fairly late within the sport. And in a single sense, that late entry made the job of a bomber pilot in Europe loads simpler: at this level the dreaded Luftwaffe was now all however vanquished.

“By the point I received there, we’d see a couple of German fighters, however we just about had the Luftwaffe below management by then,” Landry added. “We have been battling flak greater than the Luftwaffe. We have been by no means actually attacked by fighter planes throughout our missions.”

However even in its last months, World Warfare II was nonetheless a younger man’s warfare. Younger males have that sense of invulnerability: “It may well’t occur to me.” 4 many years previous the warfare’s finish, properly into his soccer profession, I requested Landry if he ever thought on the time how harmful each takeoff, each mission, each touchdown they made might be. Did this scare him? Did he ever have second ideas?

“Under no circumstances. I might see myself doing all of it once more, positive. If our nation was threatened the way in which it was at the moment—goodness gracious, everyone simply went to warfare. Whether or not you got here again or not was not the vital factor. So I might see myself doing all of it once more.”

A MUCH-CHANGED Tom Landry got here residence after flying 30 missions, returning to his two nice loves: Texas and soccer. He continued his schooling on the College of Texas-Austin, graduating in 1949 with a level in electrical engineering. He additionally celebrated two bowl victories with the Longhorns, together with the 1949 Orange Bowl. Not lengthy after that sport, he married his school sweetheart, Alicia Wiggs.

Landry resumed football after the war’s end, playing fullback for the University of Texas-Austin (top) and joining the New York Giants (below) as a defensive back in 1950. (AP Photo/Carl E. Linde)
Landry resumed soccer after the warfare’s finish, enjoying fullback for the College of Texas-Austin (prime) and becoming a member of the New York Giants (under) as a defensive again in 1950. (AP Photograph/Carl E. Linde)

(HistoryNet Archives)
(HistoryNet Archives)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Landry’s soccer profession started in earnest in 1950, when he joined the New York Giants as a defensive again; 4 years later, he turned an assistant coach. When a brand new NFL franchise was granted to Dallas in 1960, Landry nabbed the pinnacle teaching job. It was a wrestle from the beginning: there have been lean shedding seasons, to not point out a winless debut 12 months. However together with his engineer’s thoroughness and soccer genius, Tom improved the Cowboys season after season. In 1972’s Tremendous Bowl VI, when Landry’s group beat the Miami Dolphins 24-3, the Dallas Cowboys lastly shrugged off the sarcastic title of “Subsequent 12 months’s Champions”—a nickname held on them within the mid-’60s by a not-always-kind press corps. 5 out of 10 Tremendous Bowls within the Nineteen Seventies featured the Dallas Cowboys, and in 1978 they beat the Denver Broncos 27-10 to win their second title below Landry in Tremendous Bowl XII.

After all, nothing lasts endlessly. After 29 years as the one head coach the Cowboys ever had—and following 20 consecutive profitable seasons, an NFL report that also stands— Landry was fired when new possession took over the group. He entered the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame in 1990; in 1999 he was recognized with leukemia, and he died in 2000.

When Landry was the Cowboys’ coach (top, in 1980), his fedora became an ever-present signature. Following his death from leukemia in 2000, Cowboys players including quarterback Troy Aikman (bottom) donned jerseys emblazoned with miniature hats in Landry’s memory. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
When Landry was the Cowboys’ coach (prime, in 1980), his fedora turned an ever-present signature. Following his demise from leukemia in 2000, Cowboys gamers together with quarterback Troy Aikman (backside) donned jerseys emblazoned with miniature hats in Landry’s reminiscence. (Deal with Sport/Getty Photographs)

(Harry How/Allsport via Getty Images)
(Harry How/Allsport by way of Getty Photographs)

Arguably, a big portion of the soccer success of Tom Landry, and the Dallas Cowboys, was born within the cramped cockpit of a B-17—braving the skies over Nazi Germany, flying by means of lethal flak to bomb an oil discipline, residing to fly one other day. Towards the top of my 1981 interview with Landry, I requested him if all his wartime experiences accounted for why he by no means misplaced management of his feelings when his group confronted a tricky state of affairs late in a sport. He laughed and stated, “Yeah, I suppose it’s.”

After his teaching days have been over, Landry determined to acquire his personal pilot’s license and return to the cockpit. He purchased a single-engine Cessna so he might journey between Dallas and Austin, the place he had a second residence. In 1995 Tom and Alicia have been en path to Austin of their Cessna when the engine failed simply after takeoff. It’s tempting to marvel what ran by means of Landry’s thoughts throughout these harmful minutes. Did his days in a B-17 cockpit flash earlier than his eyes? Did he really feel the identical catch in his throat? Or did his engineer’s thoughts run down a psychological guidelines to try to remedy the issue? We are going to by no means know what he was pondering. What we do know is that non-public pilot Tom Landry, cool, calm, and unflappable, landed his powerless Cessna in an open space within the metropolis of Ennis, Texas. He put it down proper subsequent to the highschool’s soccer discipline. ✯

This text was revealed within the February 2022 situation of World Warfare II. 

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