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Wayne Landis and wife, Michelle
Twins: Emma & Sofia
Wayne in Mosul. He was a kid magnet!
January 1, 2006 - Above & Below
Christmas with Family in Pennsylvania
July 2, 2006 - Walter Reed Hospital
Wayne returned to have his skull plate put in.
February / March 2006 - Living in San Angelo
Replica of Wayne's skull showing the huge area that was missing a skull plate. It was shattered by fragmented shell that entered from the front right temple, just above the eye.
Wayne Landis has a testimonial...
AN AMERICAN WAR HERO
Honorably Discharged, Wounded Warrior
Husband, Father, Realtor, Student, future Teacher
...as told to Kat Rowoldt
I had the honor of sitting down with Wayne Landis in his home on a quiet Sunday afternoon. His wife and kids were out of town, so there were no distractions. My purpose was to hear his story as only he could tell it. My husband had come along as well. Neither of us had truly ever heard his whole story.
As the interview began, this awesome young man that sat across the table began his story by saying, “I had a drug problem as a child. I was drug to church!” Whew…I thought for a moment I was about to have a completely different story than I had planned.
Wayne shared how his mom made sure he was in church whenever the doors were open. He grew up in the church, but like so many teens, he rebelled. He enjoyed going to church for the fellowship and to see his church family. His church experience was “just what you were supposed to do” instead of being a personal experience of worshiping his Savior. He had given his life to the Lord at the age of twelve, but had never lived his life for the Lord.
Wayne joined the Army and became a Signals Analyst. He was stationed at Fort Gordon, GA. One day he was sent to check on some soldiers watching a driver’s training video. That’s where he would meet his future wife, Michelle. A four year relationship began, both being stationed at various bases around the world. Michelle would soon be sent to Qatar.
When 9/11 happened, Wayne decided he wanted to change to another type of assignment. He was inspired by his grandfather who served in World War II as a tank driver and participated in the D-Day invasion. That inspiration, on top of the events of 9/11, inspired him to step it up and he wanted to do more to fight the global war on terrorism. He changed to the Army’s Infantry.
In 2003, Wayne decided this gal he had met four years previously, was someone he didn’t want to live without. He popped the big question and they planned to marry on August 14th, 2004. He proposed over the phone on one of their nightly calls while Michelle was deployed. She returned from Qatar at the end of July 2004. During the year leading up to their marriage, Wayne rededicated his life to the Lord and truly sought to know Him. He knew that marriage wouldn’t work without God.
They married as planned on August 14, 2004 and had a four day honeymoon. Married life would still be a challenge. Michelle ended up being stationed in Georgia, but Wayne was sent to Alaska the next day when he returned from his honeymoon. They spent their first year of marriage being stationed at different bases. They celebrated their first anniversary a couple of weeks early because Wayne was about to be sent Iraq. He was actually entering Kuwait on the day of their first anniversary.
Wayne spent a couple of weeks in Kuwait with his troops, acclimating to the temperature and time change. Their assignment was in Mosul, Iraq – the Biblical location of Nineveh. Wayne was the rifle team leader and soon became the rifle squad leader. Their assignment duty was to conduct raids on suspected locations of insurgent strongholds.
On November 19, 2005, their afternoon patrol came in early so they could be shifted over to what is called “Quick Reaction Force.” These shifts would run for 18 hours. They were on standby and had to be ready to leave within five minutes when the call would come in. Wayne had be catching up on emails and drinking coffee when the call came. He recalls vividly double checking his ammo. He didn’t want to run out of ammo while out there. That wouldn’t be a good thing. He got his squad and they were out the door in that five minute time frame.
While riding to their assigned area, he’s double checking his men’s gear to make sure all nine of them are ready for what is ahead of them. It was a fifteen minute drive to the coordinates. While driving through Mosul, Wayne started hearing on the radio the chatter. They were headed to where the top al-Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was meeting with several of his top lieutenants that night. It was in Wayne’s sector. This wasn’t just anybody. This person was one of the faces on that infamous deck of cards.
The Iraqi army had already encountered them when the call came in for Wayne’s squad to go. His guys were now the second squad on the scene. The first squad had already arrived. The first squad had the platoon leader with them. As Wayne led his men down the alley to get to their position, he was hearing small arms fire. They entered the courtyard and saw two soldiers were down and wounded. In his mind he noted that they would deal with them after they got the situation under control.
His job was to reinforce the first squad, to defend and push toward clearing. As they entered the house he saw holes in the walls where the gun fire was coming from. They spotted the first squad who was taking non-stop fire, but they were down and shielded a bit. Wayne and his guys didn’t have anything to shield themselves. They were standing up and shooting at anything that was firing that did not have the American Flag emblem on their shoulder.
Wayne began feeling the plaster from the wall beginning to hit him from behind. The firing was endless. The moment began being surreal. His mind went back to a special moment before he had departed for Iraq. His home church had given him a send off and the Pastor’s wife had pulled him aside before he left and opened her Bible and prayed Psalm 91 over Wayne. His mind was struggling trying to remember those words. He’s trying to focus and target the enemy – and those words from Psalm 91 that he could recall he began screaming them out. “What were those words?” his mind demanded!
An AK 47 round hit him in the chest and sent him flying into the wall behind him. It felt like he had been hit with a sledge hammer. The pain was off the scale. It hit high, just clipping the top of his ceramic armor and piercing his right shoulder. He lost the use of his right arm and grabbed his rifle with his left hand. He regained his stance and tried firing left handed without a second hand to steady it. Within seconds he was blown back by another AK 47 round.
This round pierced his right hip, shattering the ball joint in his hip at the top of the femur. He remembers that he felt no additional pain with that hit. Then the third hit came. This shot traveled through a steal door and caused it to fragment. It would hit Wayne in his right temple just above his eye. His memory stops at this moment.
Wayne would later learn that the al-Qaeda was not only firing at them through the walls, but up through the floor as well. The Platoon leader was hit and many others. There were casualties. The situation was deteriorating, so the back-up soldiers drove a vehicle through the wall to get to the casualties and get them out of there. Wayne was told he was the last one they loaded out. He was a big boy and he was loaded with so much ammo that he was the heaviest to load. His ammo was so badly damaged from the firing his body took that none of it was usable.
As he was transported out, he was rated as “expectant.” Expectant was the term used to medically retire a Soldier not expected to live to ensure next of kin received full benefits. He was transferred through at least four facilities where they tried to stabilize him for yet another transport. Wayne would later learn that one of the two men who loaded him out that night was later killed.
Wayne’s lifeless body was transported through several facilities, Balad Air Base where they did the initial surgeries, it’s like a MASH, and then he was transported to Germany on his way to the states. Bethesda Naval Hospital is where the lead neurosurgeon that covered brain injuries was stationed. All brain injuries went there first before they were sent to their perspective hospitals. Wayne does not remember being at Bethesda Hospital. He spent two weeks there.
Sometime in December, in his third week of his coma, Wayne awakened in the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. His prognosis was grim. As he put it, “living was questionable!” When Wayne awakened, he was very confused because his whole family was there. He thought he was still in Iraq and they had come to see him.
When asked what his first remembrance was when he awoke, he remembers being thankful that he was alive! His next thought was the smell of food and not being able to eat – only ice chips. He was being fed through a tube. His speech was interrupted and he was challenged trying to communicate.
He remembers his wife bringing a CD player into his room and she had the Bible on it. He remembers listening to the Word of God being read aloud to him from the CD. He also remembers that his physical therapist was a former NFL player. Those were rough days!
Wayne so wanted to eat. He was hungry. But he couldn’t swallow. He had to relearn how to swallow. He remembers being rolled outside and looking at the flag pole. The American flag on top with the American Red Cross flag six inches below it. His memory of these days is sketchy.
One thing that he remembers with intense pain that still surfaces when he speaks about it was his desire to spend Christmas with his family. He remembers being told that his iron level needed to come up in order for him to get a pass to leave the hospital and spend time with his family for Christmas. His family was going to all be together at his family home in Pennsylvania the Sunday after Christmas. He had only 18 hours for that miracle to happen. He prayed. God answered.
Wayne’s huge family celebrates Christmas together on the Sunday after Christmas so that the whole family can attend. They lived only three hours from Walter Reed in Pennsylvania. That year it happened to be New Year’s Day. All he wanted in the world was to drive up there, but the nurses were very sure that the Doctor would say no. Surprisingly the doctor approved a day pass as long as they would back by midnight. His brother and sister jumped in the van and broke land speed records to come get him. Not only did he get to spend the day with the family, but a brand new niece was born that day while they were there. [See picture of Wayne with his nieces and nephews that day.]
The next day, January 2, 2006, he was transferred to Tampa, Florida. He was being sent to the James Haley VA Hospital which is one of only three VA hospitals in the United States that has a department that specializes in poly-trauma and brain injuries. It’s attached to the University of South Florida and they work together. He was transported via ambulance to Andrews Air Force Base where he was boarded onto a huge medical transport airplane to fly to Tampa. He recalls that being such a scary transport. He kept feeling like he was going to roll out of the back of ambulance and he was so scared. This was probably caused by the brain injury.
Florida meant more intense physical therapy. He advanced to being on a walker. They did a colostomy on him. One medical miracle was already manifesting. The ball of his femur that fits into the hip socket that was shattered by the second AK 47 miraculously healed itself without specific surgery on it. Florida is where he was in January.
His wife Michelle drove Wayne home to San Angelo, Texas on February 2nd. He recalls getting home in time to watch his Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. Wayne arrived home wearing a full head medical helmet, using a wheel chair to get around, and a brace on his right leg. He used a walker during therapy sessions. He was missing about 40% of his skull. He needed his colostomy bag. His prognosis was still anything but inspiring.
While the doctors didn’t give much hope for Wayne to return to a fully self-functioning life, Wayne was determined that he would. In the summer of 2006, Wayne returned to Walter Reed to have the colostomy removed. During the summer of 2006 he had a skull plate put in so the helmet could come off. [See picture of the size of his skull that was missing.]
Wayne was determined to regain his life. He started pushing all the limits and going beyond what the doctors said he could do. He graduated from the wheelchair to a walker and eventually to a cane with a brace.
With pride, he recalls planning to purchase his wife a special ring for their second anniversary. He called a cab, went to Legends Jewelers downtown, and had them create the 1 karat platinum ring she had always wanted. He took one of her rings with him to get the size right. While his intentions were great, he caused her great fear when she came home for lunch and found him missing. Oops! She was livid. She forgave him on their anniversary when he presented her with that special gift of love for her.
Wayne began driving again in early 2007 with a specially outfitted truck that has the accelerator on the left. He got his real estate license in 2007. The Lord blessed Wayne and Michelle with twins on April 9, 2008. These precious baby girls arrived ten weeks early. They too were miracle babies – with a miracle daddy – and an amazing mother! Wayne decided to ditch the brace and the cane after the girls were born. He felt they inhibited him in being able to carry and chase them so he just decided one day that he no longer needed them. It was an eighteen - twenty-four month journey regain his ability to walk on his own.
Wayne decided to go back to school and get his degree in education. He challenges himself to use his brain and believes for its healing. His area that he is challenged with is short term memory. Even with this challenge, he is carrying a 3.5 GPA. He plans to be certified to teach 4th-8th grade when he graduates in December 2013. What an amazing recovery! What an amazing man of God! Walking out his faith!
When asked about his perspective on all this, he says, “Why me, God? What was I spared for? Maybe it was just to have my two girls.” Yes, tears rolled up in his eyes.
In concluding our time together, I asked Wayne for any final thoughts:
“All glory goes to God. The men were placed there by God to carry me out.” Then he recalled his old youth pastor from home sharing with him about his visit with him in the hospital in Washington when he was first waking up from the coma. He shared with Wayne that he was muttering these words from Deuteronomy 30:19. “I call heaven and earth as witness this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” I choose life.
Yes – Wayne chose life – and the best is yet to come! Thank You Lord for sparing this awesome life and causing him to rise up and challenge us all to push our limits to greater heights!
Watch for his wife’s story coming soon. She has an incredible story too!
& Industrial Supply, Inc.
808 Warehouse Road
San Angelo, Texas 76903 325-655-0075
Hours: Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.