For most people, a 100th birthday celebration might include a gathering of friends and family, some music, and maybe a slice or two of cake.
Tom Rice took things a little further.
Rice, who served as a paratrooper in World War II, celebrated passing the century mark by jumping from the Commemorative Air Force’s C-53D D-Day Doll onto the beach in front of the Hotel del Coronado in his hometown of Coronado, California.
He dedicated the jump to the 101st Airborne Division and “The 4 Colonels of Carentan,” in support of a monument being built in Normandy as a tribute to those who liberated Europe.
“It was exhilarating,” he said of the jump. “It was a replay of everything that took place in Europe [during the war], from the time that I landed in England.”
D-Day Doll flew missions on June 6, 1944, in Operation Overlord. She has been restored and preserved by the Commemorative Air Force to represent her role in the Allied invasion of Normandy.
Another D-Day veteran, 97-year-old Dan McBride, met Rice on the ground, along with quite a crowd.
“I think the whole city of Coranado was there,” Rice said. “It was a happy day.”
But it was not without some stress.
“There’s a little bit of anxiety to face,” he said. “When you first get out of the plane, that prop blast is a little intense, but once you get past that, it was wonderful.”
Rice’s Role in History
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Rice volunteered to join the elite airborne paratrooper school, despite being a new and untested combat branch of the American Army. He called it “The Airborne Experiment.”
“It was the adventure, high risk, mental and physical challenge plus the additional $50 a month bonus that convinced [me] to go beyond the call of duty,” he said.
After what could best be described as nearly impossible training, Rice earned his paratrooper wings and became a member of the most exclusive and demanding regiments of that time—the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) of the 101st Airborne Division, C Company.
His commander? The legendary Col. Howard “Jumpy” Johnson.
Rice parachuted in Normandy on D-Day. In fact, Rice led 18 paratroopers out over Drop Zone D in Carentan. But because of the flak-riddent skies, the speed of the aircraft, and its low altitude, Rice was thrown and wedged in the corner of the door. The ensuing struggle to break free left him scraped from his armpit to his wrist.
- Participated in Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands
- Served in the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne, Belgium
- Joined in the Capture Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden, Germany
The Next Chapter
After the war, Tom resumed his studies and later became a teacher. He taught high school and junior college social studies and history for more than 44 years. In some ways, through his jumps, he continues to teach, working hard to make sure that all the men who fought and sacrificed their lives on D-Day won’t be forgotten.
To that end, Rice plans on doing another jump for his 101st birthday.
“I’m not crazy yet,” Rice said with a laugh. “We’re going to keep going. We have to keep these jumps going so that people don’t forget,” he said.
“I’ll just go along and shake hands with people and talk with them about what happened.”
The Secret of Longevity
So how do you get to live to be 100 years old? Rice has some advice.
“Stand up straight, talk straight, live straight, and move around. You’ve got to move around.”