December 17, 1941. Pearl Harbor.
It marked the beginning of a new chapter in World War II. Thousands of young Americans were called to arms to defend their home country.
Thomas Marcus Rice, then 22-year old, was a top athlete at San Diego State College while pursuing his studies when he left the peaceful town of Coronado, California, to answer the call to arms.
He volunteered to join the elite airborne paratrooper school. Despite it being a new and untested combat branch of the American army, it was the adventure, high risk, mental and physical challenge - and the additional $50 a month bonus - that convinced him to go beyond what his civil duty required.
However, it wasn't easy for young Thomas. During the early phase of the program, he trained with the U.S. Airborne Jump School pioneers at Camp Toccoa, Georgia. Tom faced many challenges due to the vigorous physical training and mental fortitude needed to complete this highly selective program. His instructors were eager to disqualify those who could not endure their intense drills. None of these deterred Tom; he earned the coveted paratrooper wings at Fort Benning, Georgia, through his determination and perseverance.
Tom then found himself in one of the most elite and demanding regiments of that time, the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division commanded by the legendary Colonel Howard Ravenscroft Johnson. This brought him to World War II's major battles as he served as a platoon sergeant and commanded 12 paratroopers until he jumped on June 6, 1944, over Normandy for Operation Overlord.
Tom was injured even before he reached the ground. He later realized he had lost his watch as it ripped off his arm while he jumped. Even so, he continued to battle on for days going on months. The battle of Normandy ended for Tom and his brothers-in-arms as they were disengaged but deployed once more to fight at Hitler's Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgaden, Germany.
On December 21, 1945, Tom Rice was honorably discharged. He resumed his studies and later on taught Social Studies and History.
June 5, 2019. 75 years later.
Tom jumped once again from a C-47 over Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. He was 97 years old, sharp, alert and still wearing his uniform that he wore back in the day.
Everything from the sky was the same. The English channel, the houses, the churches, and even the French people who were children back then. They welcomed him and the other World War II veterans as grateful adults upon reaching the ground of what was once enemy territory. The only thing missing was the gunfire.
Through this, Tom and his colleagues hoped that the new generation would be able to understand the sacrifice and the need to remember the greatest generation of men who came and fought for the liberation of many more generations to come.
And here at Praesidus, the stories go on.