Published On: August 16th, 2021|437 words|1.5 min read|
On National Airborne Day, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Tom Rice, a World War II paratrooper who landed in Normandy on D-Day.
Tom Rice was born in August 1921 in Coronado, California. He graduated from Coronado High School in 1940. After his sophomore year of college, he volunteered for the Army in 1943 because he considered himself a risk-taker. At Camp Toccoa, Georgia, Rice became a paratrooper. He completed 19 months of training, which focused on enhancing soldiers’ cooperation and efficiency, at the school at Fort Benning, Georgia. Rice then joined the 101st Airborne Division and deployed to Great Britain in 1944.
In Great Britain, the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division trained for Operation Overlord. On June 5, 1944, Rice’s company equipped a Douglas C-47 aircraft with machine guns, ammunition, mortar bombs and radio equipment. There were 18 paratroopers in total aboard the aircraft. Rice’s division was initially separated upon landing because the aircraft had been traveling at 164 miles per hour, which was 54 miles per hour faster than the recommended speed for a jump. Once Rice found the other paratroopers, they secured the roads in Cotentin, France. A civilian couple in a French farmhouse gave them ammunition and directions. At 8 p.m. on D-Day, 280 American paratroopers, including the 501st, captured the Barquette lock in Basse-Abbeville, France.
After the battle, the 101st Airborne Division returned to England and trained for Operation Market Garden. At 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 17, 1944, they parachuted into the Netherlands and began moving through Holland towards the Ardennes region of Belgium. Rice fought in the Battle of the Bulge, where a German sniper shot him twice. After he recovered at the 121st Shield Hospital in Belgium, he honorably discharged on Dec. 21, 1945.
Rice returned to California and taught social sciences and history. He had five children. He also wrote and published his book “Trial by Combat,” a personal account of his wartime experience.
Rice remained a risk-taker. In 2019, in remembrance of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, he parachuted into Normandy at age 97. Days later, he parachuted into the Netherlands to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden.
Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.