It was 75 years ago the last time Tom Rice, 97, jumped out of an airplane over France.
Back then, the San Diego-born veteran of the 101st Airborne 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, was fighting to free Europe from Adolf Hitler and the Axis powers.
It was D-Day.
“I was thinking, ‘let’s get the hell out of here,’ because we were under fire,” he told CNN. “All the thoughts about what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it just passed through my mind so quickly, and I was so focused on getting out of that aircraft.”
Facing a barrage of enemy gunfire, the pilot sped the aircraft carrying Rice up to 165 miles per hour, well above the standard 105 mph limit for a safe airdrop. It put Rice in danger, but he knew his mission, and wasn’t about to sit this one out.
“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,” Rice told the Washington Examiner. “The worst jump I ever had.”
Despite this, he landed, and gave the Germans hell for it.
“We did a lot of destruction, damage,” he said. “And we chased the Germans out…”
On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Rice revisited those places where he fought to save the world from Nazis. And, just like he did then, he arrived in a C-47, and brought his parachute along.
This time, the veteran’s jump wasn’t as frantic.
“It went perfect, perfect jump.” Rice said. “I feel great. I’d go up and do it all again.”
Rice lost more than a third of his company to the war. When it was over, he came home and began teaching. He has since written books about his time in WWII, sharing his story with countless others.
Rice sees this jump as a matter of closure. Even for a 97-year-old, the unsettling memories of the landing at Normandy are hard to shake off. This jump was in honor of those men who didn’t make it back home alive.
“You can close the issue now,” he says.
See Rice’s jump in the video below.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.