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Watch: 97-yr-old Veteran Paratrooper Re-Creates his D-Day Jump

Nancy Bilyeau

75 years later a veteran paratrooper has recreated his immortal D-Day jump. Tom Rice jumped out of a plane for the first time on D-Day, as he tried to reach the Normandy coast amid German soldiers’ firing into the sky. Now 97, the onetime U.S. paratrooper made the jump again, one of about 200 parachutists commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Rice, a San Diego resident, said afterward, “it went perfect, perfect jump,” according to the Associated Press. He continued, “I feel great. I’d go up and do it all again.”

The veteran Rice made his jump roughly the same area he landed in on D-Day, outside of Carentan, a Normandy town that was an objective for the Allied paratroopers on D-Day. The C-47 transporters dropped group after group of parachutists.
CNN reported, “Those on the ground watched the anxiety-inducing descent as, strapped to another parachutist dangling beneath a red, white and blue canopy, the old man coasted through the sky, another gigantic American flag billowing out behind him. Reaching the ground with only a slight stumble on impact, Rice proudly gave V for victory signs with his hands.

He jumped in tandem with another parachuter, and trained for six months for this opportunity.

Rice’s D-Day jump was far more harrowing. “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 said in an interview. A German bullet had pierced his parachute during his descent. Rice said of the the others in his unit, “Many of them are deceased. We had 38 percent casualties. I represent a whole generation,” he said of the dwindling number of D-Day survivors. Like many other veterans, Rice remains troubled by the war.

Related Video: 101st Airborne Paratroopers (Market Garden), 1944 Original Footage

“All the GIs suffer from same blame and shame,” he said an in interview. “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.”

WW2 Paratroopers

American paratroopers in WWII

He wasn’t the only D-Day veteran to take the plunge this anniversary. Harry Read, 95, a retired Salvation Army officer in England, was a 20-year-old wireless operator with the Royal Signals when he was pushed out of his plane in the early hours of June 6th, according to The Guardian.  John “Jock” Hutton, 94, from Larkfield, Kent, was 19, and serving with the 13th Lancashire Parachute regiment when he descended.

On Wednesday both performed tandem jumps with the British army, re-creating the landings at a historic drop zone at Sannerville. The pair were part of a display that also included 280 British and French paratroopers. Both men gave a thumbs-up to the crowd as they landed.

“I thought the jump was brilliant. The jump was wonderful in every way. I feel good. My health is good and my mind is still ticking away,” Read told reporters, according to The Guardian. At the same time, Hutton wondered why he doesn’t “have more sense at 94.”

Just minutes into D-day, the first house on French soil had been liberated, but the first Allied soldier casualty of the invasion, Lt Den Brotheridge, 28, was killed.

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On D-Day, men were not only shot but lost in flooded trenches, dragged down by heavy equipment. Some gliders crash-landed. Many paratroopers were blown off course, landing alone miles from their allotted rendezvous points. More than 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded, or declared missing in the Battle of Normandy.


Nancy Bilyeau, a former staff editor at Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and InStyle, has written a trilogy of historical thrillers for Touchstone Books. Her new book, The Blue, is a spy story set in the 18th-century porcelain world. For more information, go to www.nancybilyeau.com