The Faces Behind Praesidus, Tom Rice

The Faces Behind Praesidus, Tom Rice

It is hard to imagine a more perfect hero in many ways. Thomas Marcus Rice was born towards the dawn of the roaring twenties, growing up in a world imbued with the relief and optimism of the Great War’s end. But things were not to remain so peaceful. Around the time young Tom, whose clean-cut service picture rings more of a Hollywood star from the golden era of the silver screen than it does a man about to go to war, turned 20, conflict was once again on the horizon. And yet, for the first couple of years of WWII America managed to keep the fighting at arm's length. On December 17, 1941, that all changed.


The bombing of Pearl Harbor announced America’s entry into the war. Tom Rice, then aged 22, was called up to fight for the freedom of the world, disrupting his stellar college athletic career at San Diego State.


It is clear by his decision to volunteer for the elite airborne paratrooper school, a recently added and largely untested branch of the American Army that he was not a young man easily phased. Of course, it is probable that the $50 monthly bonus played a part in the mind of the ambitious young soldier who obviously had his eyes on the future beyond the end of the war.


He became part of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, having endured the grueling selection process and impressed his superiors with his determination, perseverance, and composure under pressure.


Tom’s unit was commanded by the legendary Colonel Howard Ravenscroft Johnson, a man known for taking his duties seriously. It is apparent that Ravenscroft had immense faith in young Tom, choosing to deploy him in some of World War II's major battles. Tom was soon made platoon sergeant, with 12 paratroopers under his command. That was until a fateful jump over Normandy on June 6, 1944, as part of Operation Overlord.


By the time Tom landed, he had been injured, losing his watch during the jump in the process. Still, he labored on for weeks. He fought until his commanders needed him to fight no more. Tom and his company were pulled out of battle but soon deployed once more to fight at Hitler's Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgaden, Germany, the last time Tom Rice would face down the Nazis in the world’s most violent and important war to date.


Following an honorable discharge shortly after the end of the war, Tom went back to school. He graduated and went on to teach Social Studies and History. But he never forgot those days in Normandy and was keen that others should remember also.


Seventy-five years later, on the anniversary of D-Day, a 97-year-old Tom Rice once more jumped from a C-47 over Normandy. This time, thankfully, he did not lose his watch, nor was he greeted by a raging battle when he touched down uninjured.


He met with the local community whose livelihoods he had fought to protect all those years before. The sacrifices made by Tom and the other members of the greatest generation were provably worthwhile thanks to the peace and prosperity of the regions and people they risked their lives to protect.

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