Amongst the clouds of Carentan, France, 97-year-old Tom Rice returned to the skies where he deployed 75 years earlier, taking place in what was called Operation Neptune. To you or I, Operation Neptune may not ring a bell, but D-Day might.
D-Day, short for Deployment Day, were landing operations that took place on Tuesday, 6 June 1944. Over 156,000 allied troops from several different countries including Canada stormed the beaches of Normandy to aid in the liberation of Germany-occupied France. Tom Rice was one of them.
The 97-year-old took to the skies once again, but things were a bit different this time. Instead of jumping into the largest conflict in human history, Rice was jumping into a field of loved ones, supporters, and a number of veterans were in attendance.
“I represent a whole generation,” Rice said.
Rice represented the ever-shrinking number of veterans who sacrificed so much for their countries over three-quarters of a century ago.
After making his landing, Rice said that “It went perfect, perfect jump. I feel great. I’d go up and do it all again.”
Rice landed in a field of wildflowers outside Carentan, France. Nearly the same area that Rice had jumped into on D-Day back in 1944, though he says it was dark on that day, and can’t say with certainty exactly where he was.
Rice deployed with the US. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, known colloquially as the Screaming Eagles, and landed safely despite what he calls “the worst jump I ever had.” Rice says that he had caught himself on the plane’s exist, and a bullet struck his parachute on the way down.
“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.
After six months of preparation for the jump, Rice flew down with an American flag fluttering beneath him and landed to the sounds of applause, rather than gunfire.
British parachutists jumped later on in the day en masse. D-Day veterans were expected to be among them.
When 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% casualties,” he said.
Though Rice says he’s proud of all of what he was able to accomplish, he also says it doesn’t come without troubles. “All the GIs suffer from same blame and shame,” Rice said. “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.