December 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor 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 join what he calls “The Airborne Experiment.”
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 his call of duty.
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. Through his determination and perseverance, he earned the coveted paratrooper wings at Fort Benning, Georgia.
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 “Jumpy” Johnson.
On June 6th, 1944 at the hour of darkness, Staff Sergeant Rice led 18 Paratroopers out the door over Drop Zone D in Normandy, France for Operation Overlord.
Tom was injured even before he reached the ground. Its wasn’t until then that he realized he had lost his wrist watch. Even so, he rejoined his fellow comrades and had an intense battle for 37 days on the ground in Normandy. After that, they went on to launch Market Garden, Battle of the Bulge, Hitler's Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgaden, Germany and ended in Auxere, France where the 501st PIR was de-activated.
On December 21, 1945, Tom Rice was honorably discharged. He resumed his studies and later on taught High School and Junior College Social Studies and History for forty four years.
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 at the time. Still sharp and alert, wearing his combat uniform and jump boots that he wore on D-Day.
When Tom was asked, what was it like to jump 75 years later, he adamantly responded, “The only difference was there was no one shooting at me.” Everything was the same, the English channel, the houses, the churches, and even the French people who were children back then.
Once Tom reached the previously enemy occupied ground, he could here the cheers from the crowd. Grateful citizens traveled from all over the world to thank Tom and all the World War II veterans that were in attendance.
Tom jumped to inspire the world! “I came home and they didn’t. I don’t want anybody to forget them.” Tom stated.
Tom and his colleagues hope that the next generations will always be reminded of the men who came and fought for them, many sacrificing their lives to liberate the world. We shall never forget them.
That's why here at Praesidus, the stories go on.