D-Day US paratrooper Tom Rice, 97, recreated his Normandy jump as Queen praises 'resilient' generation 75 years on.

By Ian Horswill


Posted on June 6, 2019

There was no rounds of gunfire this time, no fears for a hazardous jump into enemy territory, no firearms and incendiaries strapped to his body. This time, 75 years almost to the hour after he parachuted into Nazi Germany-occupied France, 97-year-old Tom Rice found himself falling from Normandy’s skies, giggling with excitement just like a little kid.

“Woo-hoo!” the ex-paratrooper yelped after hitting the ground, holding the memories of comrades lost in battle and on a new mission — of remembrance this time — for the ever-decreasing numbers who sacrificed so much in World War II, AP News reported.

“I represent a whole generation,” said Rice, of San Diego.

With their engines throbbing, C-47 transport planes dropped at least 200 parachutists including Rice, who jumped strapped to a partner, not alone and laden with weapons as he did on 6 June 1944.

“It went perfect, perfect jump,” Rice said after catching his breath. “I feel great. I’d go up and do it all again.”

About 300 World War II veterans, most of them more than 90 years old, attended the commemoration marking 75 years since history’s largest combined land, air and sea operation.

Queen Elizabeth was joined in Portsmouth by world leaders from every country involved in the invasion of German-occupied France, including US President Donald Trump, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the UK’s outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May.

Paying personal tribute to the veterans of the largest seaborne invasion in history that helped bring World War II to an end, the world leaders signed a joint statement pledging to “resolve international tensions peacefully”.

“The wartime generation — my generation — is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today,” the 93-year-old Queen, wearing bright pink, said.

Rice jumped into roughly the same area he landed in on D-Day, as part of the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division. He said it was dark in 1944 when he hit the ground in hostile territory and he was uncertain as to where he was.

Rice called the 1944 jump “the worst jump I ever had”.

“I got my left armpit caught in the lower left-hand corner of the door so I swung out, came back and hit the side of the aircraft, swung out again and came back, and I just tried to straighten my arm out and I got free,” he told The Associated Press in an interview.

His jump on Wednesday was an altogether different story. Still buff and sprightly, and having prepared for six months with a physical trainer, Rice swooped down with an American flag fluttering beneath him and landed to a wave of applause from the crowd of thousands that gathered to watch the aerial display.

Other parachutists jumped with World War II souvenirs, some carrying items their grandfathers took into battle. Many spectators wore War-era uniforms, and music of the time played over loudspeakers.

Robert Schaefer, a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army’s Green Berets who served in Afghanistan, carried whiskey, cigars and the dog tag and wallet his grandfather, George J. Ehmet, had with him when he fought as an artilleryman in France.

“I feel like I got to jump with my grandpa,” Schaefer said afterwards.

British parachutists jumped later en masse over Sannerville.

Asked how his D-Day comrades would have felt about him jumping, Rice said, “They would love it. Some of them couldn’t handle it. Many of them are deceased. We had 38 per cent casualties.”

Like many other veterans, he remains troubled by the war.

“All the GIs suffer from same blame and shame. It bothers us all the time for what we did. We did a lot of destruction, damage. And we chased the Germans out, and coming back here is a matter of closure. You can close the issue now,” he said.