A native of Coronado, Ca, Thomas M. Rice was born on August 15, 1921 to a naval aviation family, Marcus and Katherine Rice. During Rice's childhood, his father was killed in an air crash in the Panama Canal Zone in 1934. Rice graduated from Coronado High School in 1940 and after 2 years of College he enlisted in the US Army at Fort Rosecrans in San Diego, California on November 17th in 1942.
Tom was sent to the 501 Parachute Infantry Regiment (501 PIR) for basic training at Camp Toccoa, Ga. and then completed the parachute jumping school at Fort Benning. Ga in 1943. After eighteen months of training, he became a member of the newly formed 101st Airborne Division.
In the early hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944, Staff Sergeant Thomas Rice, 22, jumped into Normandy as part of Operation Overlord, the largest and most complex military campaign ever undertaken.
Rice remembers the hours before parachuting into France: "On the night of June 5, 1944, as we boarded the planes that would lead us into combat, I am not sure that we realized the full extent of the dangers and difficulties we faced, or if we thought to the hundreds of thousands of other men who have faced similar or even worse trials, but if we had known all that, it would not have made any difference to us. We were ready and almost eager to go into action and get the whole bloody thing over with. "
Shortly after midnight, in terrible weather, Rice and thousands of other "Screaming Eagles" of the 101st Airborne Division parachuted into the night sky and over the Germans. Tom was the first of his aircraft to jump and his plane was under heavy anti-aircraft fire, flying too fast and too low to jump. While jumping, Tom’s arm was caught in the lower corner of the door as the 6 parapacks from his plane were released. He hung up on the door of the plane and managed to release himself. Rice finally landed near Utah Beach, 4km north of Carentan, near heavily armed Germans and miles from the planned drop zone. He joined about fifty other Americans lead by Major Allen, and they fought in Normandy for more than a month, sheltering in hunting holes, having little equipment and capturing hundreds of German soldiers.
During the Normandy Campaign, a key event in the liberation of Europe, Rice was wounded by shrapnel and a sniper bullet that hit his left knee. He attributes success in Normandy to a "complex mix of physical and mental fighting spirit".
Rice also made a fight jump in Holland during Operation Market Garden in September 1944, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. He was seriously wounded while leading a patrol in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge where a sniper bullets tore his leg as well as a four-inch piece of the radial just below his right elbow. After only one month in hospitals, he joined back his regiment in Birtchengarten, Austria.
Rice's military awards include a Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Two Invasion Arrows, Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star with Cluster, Good Conduct Medal, French Fourregue, Belgium Lanyard and Parachutist Badge. In April 2015, the French government honored Rice and thirteen other veterans by appointing them Knights of the Legion of Honor for their heroic service in the liberation of France during the Second World War. This prize is the highest honor that France grants to its citizens and foreigners.
Rice's quote for Bronze Star Metal reads in part:
"He deployed his abilities and courage in the Normandy campaign on June 6, 1944, the airborne assault on Holland on September 17, 1944 and during the defense of the key town of Bastogne in Belgium from December 19, 1944 to January 10, 1945. Throughout the three campaigns, Sergeant Rice demonstrated his dedication to service and outstanding service to his regiment, and his actions were consistent with the highest standards of military service. "
After Rice's honorable discharge at Fort MacArthur, CA, on December 21, 1945, he returned to his studies at San Diego State University. He then taught social studies and history in the San Diego area for nearly 44 years, married and had five children. His memoirs "Trial by Combat: A paratrooper of the 101st Airborne Division remembers the Battle of Normandy in 1944" (AuthorHouse 2004), tells of his preparation, training and participation in Operation Overlord.
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