In 1986, Keith Landry was a newly minted West Point graduate. He had completed the all of the requirements to graduate from Ranger School and was on a final mission in Florida days before graduation.
Then, Landry’s life drastically changed.
He had no idea that boarding a helicopter one morning would result in him missing his Ranger School graduation, fighting for his life and his career. As Landry was descending a repel rope, there was an issue with the helicopter and a call from the crew to cut ropes. Landry fell more than 60 feet. He was in a coma for nearly a month, suffering from a fractured hip, fractured vertebrae and a closed head injury.
Recently, at Fort Benning’s Victory Pond, Landry, now a 53-year-old retired colonel, shared his wisdom and experience with 188 of the newest Ranger School graduates. What he didn’t know was that his Ranger pin was waiting in the wings.
“Unfortunately, I never had the honor of standing with my Ranger classmates 31 years ago as you stand with yours now or feeling the immense satisfaction and pride you will feel when you receive your well-earned tabs,” Landry said. “You get to receive your tabs just as you earned them, as members of a tightly knit successful team.”
Retired Col. Ralph Puckett, a Ranger legend, pinned the tab on Landry’s coat. It was an honor Landry did not see coming until minutes before it happened.
“He sets an example for all Rangers — and especially for the young ones coming along,” Puckett said.
Landry felt that moving forward was not a choice but a duty. And that duty defined what he did after the fall. Instead of graduation, Landry was transferred to the hospital at Fort Gordon near his Beaufort, S.C., home.
“I knew I was a Ranger; and I knew I had to get back to my unit,” said Landry.
While he was declared 100 percent disabled, in less than a year, Landry returned to active duty, serving 26 years before retiring in 2011. His final assignment was commander of Louisville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Several of Landry’s former Ranger School classmates and his 1985 West Point classmates were at Friday’s graduation ceremony.
“You honor me with your presence,” he said to his classmates. “Trust me when I say, it is a great day to be alive.”