US World War II paratrooper veteran Tom Rice, 97 years old, who served with the 101st Airborne, lands during a commemorative parachute jump over Carentan on the Normandy coast June 5, 2019, ahead of the 75th D-Day anniversary. Alamy stock photo.
World War II paratrooper Tom Rice parachuted into his hometown of Coronado, California, to celebrate his 100th birthday. The Commemorative Air Force’s C-53 D-Day Doll — which flew missions on D-Day and has since been restored — transported Rice over a beachfront drop zone near the historic Hotel del Coronado.
The Sunday, Aug. 15, jump was made possible by Operation Call-to-Service, an organization that honors US veterans. Former Navy SEALs with the Beyond the Teams nonprofit provided a drop zone security detail to ensure everything went according to plan.
Rice completed two combat jumps during World War II. He was the first paratrooper out of his plane to parachute into Normandy, France, on D-Day. He also jumped during Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands.
On the ground, and only 22 years old, Rice fought with the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, during the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne, Belgium. He also helped capture Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden, Germany. When Rice left the US military after the war, he went on to teach social studies and history for high school and junior college for more than 44 years.
On June 5, 2019, Rice, then 97, parachuted from a C-47 over Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The event is considered the largest historical reenactment ever carried out.
“My hope is the next generations will always remember the men who came and fought for them, many sacrificing their lives to liberate the world,” Rice said, describing his 2019 jump. “May we never forget them.”
Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.