No murderous hails of gunfire this time. No D-Day objective that had to be taken, whatever the cost. This time, 75 years almost to the hour after he parachuted into Nazi-occupied France, Tom Rice again found himself floating down through Normandy’s skies, now a grizzled 97-year-old thrilled as a little kid.
“Woo-hoo!” the ex-paratrooper yelped after hitting the ground, carrying the memories of comrades lost in battle and on a new mission — of remembrance this time — for the ever-shrinking numbers who sacrificed so much in World War II.
“I represent a whole generation,” Rice said.
Engines throbbing, C-47 transport planes dropped string after string of parachutists, a couple of hundred in all – including Rice, who jumped strapped to a partner, not alone and laden with weapons as he did on June 6, 1944.
“It went perfect, perfect jump,” Rice said after catching his breath. “I feel great. I’d go up and do it all again.”
The clouds of jumpers, with round ’chutes akin to those used by D-Day soldiers, were honoring the thousands of paratroopers who leapt into gunfire and death 75 years ago.
Their landing zone Wednesday was fields of wildflowers outside Carentan, one of the targets of the airborne forces that were dropped in darkness on perilous missions to take strategic objectives and disrupt German defenses so that the greatest amphibious invasion in history, on the D-Day beaches, would have a greater chance of success.
Rice, of San Diego, jumped into roughly the same area he landed in on D-Day. He said it was dark in 1944 when he hit the ground in hostile territory and he can’t be sure exactly where he was.
Rice jumped with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division on that momentous day 75 years ago, landing safely despite catching himself on the exit and a bullet striking his parachute. He called the 1944 jump “the worst jump I ever had.”