101st Airborne Vet Tom Rice Brings Band Of Brothers To Life Part Two: If you have been listening to WallBuilders Live for very long at all, you know how much we respect our veterans and how appreciative we are of the sacrifices they make to make our freedoms possible. One of the ways that we love to honor those veterans is to tell their stories here on WallBuilders Live. Today, we are interviewing Tom Rice. Tune in now to learn more!

Air Date: 07/24/2019

Guest: Tom Rice

On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton


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Faith And The Culture

Rick:

Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture. This is WallBuilders Live! Where we’re talking about today’s hottest topics on policy, faith, and the culture, always doing that from a Biblical, historical, and Constitutional perspective.

We’re here with David Barton, America’s premier historian and the founder of WallBuilders. Also, Tim Barton, national speaker and President of WallBuilders, and my name is Rick Green, I’m a former Texas state legislator, national speaker, and author. 

Now, we do have a lot of veteran interviews on our program. It’s a great honor of ours to interview these folks that sacrificed so much for us. Yesterday we began an interview with veteran Tom Rice, World War Two veteran. 

You may have seen him in the news in the last month or two with the incredible jump 75 years later. He was a member of 101 airborne. He was part of—if you ever watched Band of Brothers—he was part of all of that, he was a Charlie Company in the 101 airborne, but he experienced all of those same things. His stories are absolutely amazing. Just last month he jumped again, at 97 years old, on the seventy fifth anniversary of D-Day.

He was literally skydiving at 97 years old, jumps back into Normandy for the anniversary of D-Day, on the seventy fifth anniversary, so just incredible. We got part of his story yesterday, we’re going to get the conclusion today here on WallBuilders Live. You do not want to miss it. Stay with us we’ll be right back.

Share a veteran’s story

We Want To Hear Your Vet Story

Rick:

Hey friends! If you have been listening to WallBuilders Live for very long at all, you know how much we respect our veterans and how appreciative we are of the sacrifice they make to make our freedoms possible. One of the ways that we love to honor those veterans is to tell their stories here on WallBuilders Live.  Once in awhile, we get an opportunity to interview veterans that have served on those front lines that have made incredible sacrifices have amazing stories that we want to share with the American people. 

One of the very special things we get to do is interview World War II veterans. You’ve heard those interviews here on WallBuilders Live, from folks that were in the Band of Brothers, to folks like Edgar Harrell that survived the Indianapolis to so many other great stories you heard on WallBuilders Live. 

You have friends and family that also served.  If you have World War II veterans in your family that you would like to have their story shared here on WallBuilders Live, please e-mail us at [email protected]  Give us a brief summary of the story and we’ll set up an interview. Thanks so much for sharing here on WallBuilders Live!

“We Marched Into Bastogne”

Tom:

We were told to just make contact with the Germans. They were surrounding us, as we were sixty three miles inland from the coastline, and that’s a pretty darn good long distance for communication. There was no jumping, and that it was foggy, and the ground was semi persperiouse with patches of snow all over. 

We didn’t have much clothing and little ammunition. We marched into Bastogne. The 106th division was walking the opposite direction trying to get out of there as fast as they could because they were in a rest area, and they were sure they were yelling at us, “They’re coming! They’re coming!” 

So we took their ammunition and rifles—literally whatever we could get to supplement our armament—and went up to just made contact with them and set up a system of defense. 

Rick:

How long were you fighting there before you were injured? 

Tom

Oh, I took out a few patrols. One patrol was on December 22nd, at about 2:00 p.m. I took out a patrol, got to a fork in the road, and the area around where the patrol was marching through was cordoned off with barbed wire fencing, and it was kind of pasture like to corral the animals that were there. 

We come to a fork in the road—three of us, I had two scouts out in front of me—and I sent scout number one, John Thomas, up the left hand fork in the road. He was crashing through the ice and snow. The other fella, number two scout, takes the other.

We were down close together at the crossroads, and a sniper with watching us all the way. 

Sniper!

He fired a shot. 

The German philosophy is one shot, one kill, high powered ammunition, telescopic sights, camouflage uniform, and a way to escape. So he caught me just above the left knee, and nicked an artery. 

I could feel my boot get nice and warm, so I was bleeding out. 

I told {Inaudible: Tex Pier} to call in scout number one and take the right hand fork of the cross road. So we did that, and I said I was hit. Lieutenant Benelli gave me 18 sets of morphine in small capsules in case we had any problems. 

SoI told Tex Pier to give me morphine, and that, “Patrol’s over, Tex. Take it in.” 

I had to get up and test that leg cause I thought it was broken. So as I put weight on that left leg and turned a little bit, and another shot came through and it hit me in a radius and took out about six inches of bone. My helmet fell off, my submachine gun and hit the ground. 

I go for a haystack right across the road, but before I do the third shot came at me and just went right by my ear. 

I was reeling back and forth, my body was contracting and all kinds of different directions, and I knew a sniper was on me because there he hit me twice, and I wasn’t going to let him get me because I did all these body movements and spoiled his telescopic view of me, and that worked.

The Rescue

Rick:

You had already been shot twice, and yet you were still able to bob and weave and try to move around? 

Tom:

Yeah. One in the radius, and one in the left leg. The leg wasn’t broken, but the right arm was really, for the most part, useless.

Rick:

Wow.

Tom:

So I hit that haystack, and it was rotten and the hard as a rock. I was down pretty low, and I was out there for a couple hours while the rest of the crew went on in, and then one fellow from the patrol volunteered to get out and bring me in. I needed some help, so he came crawling up to the back side of where I was at the second. His name was John C. Welch. 

I saw him, and I rolled out onto the road. 

I told him, “Give me the butt of your rifle. You take the muzzle, we’ll crawl back in.” 

Took us about an hour to get back to Mardasson Hill. 

From there there was a jeep waiting took me into the nunnery in Bastogne, and then on to an operating table, and they gave me first aid and checked my arm. They ran up a swab and a stick through my arm to clear it up a little bit, and cleaned up the wound on the radius, then I was there for three more days then Patton broke through, and then I was sent to the current 121st field hospital near Bastogne and got second aid there.

“Nuts”

Rick:

I’m sorry Mr. Rice, let me make sure—so when you were shot, at that point you guys were still trapped, so you couldn’t get out. You had to spend two or three days before Patton broke through to be able to get to a full hospital?

Tom:

Oh yeah. We had to fight them! Yeah. We were held in complete surrender, and surrender was demanded. And the answer was “Nuts”. I’m sure you know about that.

Rick:

Yes sir. But you were there. What did you think when you heard about that response?

Tom:

I didn’t hear about that response. I was elsewhere then in Bastogne in the nunnery. And the officers that were receiving the German demand were at another point, so we didn’t hear about that until a communication came down, and said, “We’re holding fast, we’re not surrendering, we’re kind of we’re going to kick these Germans out of here!”

Rick:

Wow. 

Tom:

So we did. Patton came through on about the eighth day, and for the most part I was sent on out with an ambulance.

Rick:

I had the opportunity to interview a gentleman a while back that was at Bastogne, and he talked about how he would literally—he would move his feet his hands in his sleep years later try just from those days of trying to stay warm. Was it that cold? Do you remember it being just the way it was depicted in Band of Brothers? It just looked miserable.

It Was Cold

Tom:

It was cold. It was so cold, and it made it exponentially so because we didn’t have enough clothing. Probably had a woolen cap under the helmet liner and whatever we could wrap on our feet, and we had a lot of trouble with so-called World War One trench feet, you know, frozen feet. So that could go a lot of problems.

Rick:

How much—I know you get asked this all of the time, I’m sure—but did Band of Brothers, really, was it a good depiction is that did? Do you feel like it was very accurate to what you guys went through?

Tom:

Does a little Hollywood in a minute, because of those who just don’t know and don’t want to observe. Don’t compatible or appropriate. But it was fairly accurate.

On the 21st of December somebody came to me and said, “Open your hands.” 

I did, and he threw in two great big scoops of hot mashed potatoes. I kept them in my hands for about five or six minutes because they were nice and warm, and then nibbled on them. And that’s where the food chain went. 

Rick:

Well, as absolutely incredible as your story is so far, this part may be the most incredible part.

You jumped back into Carenton seventy five years later. 

Tom:

Yeah, we jumped near Carenton, near Drop Zone D, where we had originally jumped.  The year before that, I did another jump.

That was the thirteen thousand four jump. Then we floated 2 to 3 thousand, and opened up and floated around, and had a nice standing landing. I’ve got about 61 jums in now.

A Paretrooper’s Patch

Rick:

This was just… you were how old when you made this last jump? 

Tom:

97 an 11 12ths. 

Rick:

97 and 11 12ths.

Tom:

Yeah. I’ll be 98 next month.

Rick:

Okay. Wow. Tell me about this ceremony when you jumped. They had some sort of reenlistment for soldiers or something, and you helped greet them?

Tell me a little bit about that. 

Tom:

In Carentan, the year before, from {inaudible} to Carentan, I marched with the reenactment, with 250 of them! We ended up in {inaudible} and had a greater ceremony there. We tried to do the same thing this year, but it rained and it created some problems so we didn’t get the march in. But we did assemble La Barchette, and there was a lady that came up, and she was a granddaughter of one of the jumpers in the  82nd Airborne, and she had his 82nd Airborne patch in her hand. She was told at his deathbed that he wanted her to give that pet to somebody just jumping. He wanted that patch jumped. 

Meeting the General

She came to me, and it was a horrendous emotional impact. It must have been three or five hundred people there in La Barchette. I think a good percentage of our just tears flowing like mad. So it was quite an emotional impact, and I’m sure they’re gonna remember that for a long time. So she gave me the patch. We jumped in on the 5th. 

The museums wanted the patch to write the history of it. We refused to give them the patch because—well, I don’t know, for various reasons. I don’t know what they were at the moment. We gave it to a historian, and he’s writing it up and he’ll be on display not in a museum, but in a private collection.

Rick:

Wow. And the guys that you were there to help get sworn in for reenlistment, they were reenlisting into the 101st Airborne?

Tom:

Yeah, that reenlistment took place in Carentan plaza. They were sworn in by the commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division. I also met the commanding general of the European theater of operations, so that was quite a pleasurable thing, to meet the officer of that rank. They are the most congenial they seem to be at all the other enlistees. 

Rick:

Interesting. Now, before I let you go, take me back once again to 1945. You were part of actually going to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest as well. 

Tom:

After they released me to the hospital for a month out of combat I worked my way through repo-depots to Berchtesgaden, where the 501 was now located, and the 506 had beat us in there, and they got, for the most part, the days were raiding the wine cellars and got the chicks. 

Returning Home

We were kind of out of left out for a bit. They didn’t really know what to do with us, there was the 101st Airborne Division. They finally decided to work out a point system, and a minimum number of points, I believe, was 72. 

I had 98. 

For the most part, the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment was going to be deactivated, and they gave us the choice of jumping or going on home. Most of us, we’re going to go home. We’ve had enough. So we didn’t jump in the new enlistees that probably had 50 60 points weren’t eligible for any return to the US, so they had to do guard duty with the 82ng in Germany. 

One of the fun things in Berchtesgaden was a German woman came up with her daughter, she was an officer, and she wanted to know if we’d seen her husband. Well, that’s impossible. We didn’t know what he would look like and what not. And after talking with us, she showed us a pair of brand new track shoes. The track shoes were four ounces weight a piece, and the spikes were different position. If there was a high jumper, the spikes removed a little bit forward, they were if they were to be worn by a sprinter, they moved a little bit back. 

They really magnificently designed for the person who’s going to wear it in the event that he would be participating in. So we had a track team we organized, and we travelled throughout Europe, and had some track meets, and went up and ran the 5000 meters. I got beaten, I got a second. 

The Photograph

We continued until the season wore down, and we back to cigarette camps along the Marseilles Nice area, and then shipped out and I landed in Norfolk Virginia. Then from there I went home. I walked in the front door of this house and I’m sitting right now on December 24th, 1946, and three weeks later I was back in college.

Rick:

Wow. Wow. And then you went on to become a social science and history teacher for 44 years.

Tom:

Yeah. I was 44 years of Sweet Weather Union High School District. I was a runner who ran marathons, got 1st place in my division, and I was a soldier. 

Rick:

WOW!

Tom:

And I’d never talked about any soldiering in the classroom at all, except one time, in my history textbook I used there was General Eisenhower talking to a Lieutenant with a number 22 on his chest—It was the number of this aircraft—and he was asking him questions. 

I got a letter from a lady who said her husband with pictures there and he’s the third man from the left with the big ears. So I took the book and wrote the Lieutenant Trimble a letter asked him if he would write right on the page etc. whatever he wanted, and he didn, and sent it back to me. 

Barbed Wire

And then, three weeks later, he sent me a three page letter of everything that was going on at that moment. So I’m sending that letter to the lady whose grandfather was pictured there with the big ears near General Eisenhower. So he’s going to get a big surprise medal, that’ll tune her in on a briefing that was taking place at that moment.

I think he made her remember that scene, because it was made into a postage stamp.

Rick:

Oh wow. And you got it to her? 

Tom:

Yeah! 

Most of us G.Is that have combat service, we struggle with fame, blame, and shame. I go on a lot of the tours, and the idea is to close out the activities and bring it to a closure, and forget it. The fact that all of our officers have, every one, from the time we were enlisted at Camp Decatur, Georgia, to Camp McCall in North Carolina, they threw chaos in front of us, and we had to figure out a way out to chaos and reduce it to a danger, that we had to reach back into the kind of convoluted areas in the mind, were for the most part men seldom go to, and pull out some human characteristic, and reduce that chaos to a danger, then reduce the dangers to an inconvenience, and then forget it. 

So that worked for me, and I got going back to Bastogne where I was hit and taken out of the activity, I was crossing a barbed wire fence in Holland. The Germans threw up a flare at about 150 feet above me, and I was stranded right around the barbed wire fence, and I froze.

Like an Apple Tree

I tried to look like a decaying apple tree, and it worked! They apparently saw me, but they thought I was an apple tree. That was part of our innovation for the month. We were supposed to be doing that kind of thing.

So you find some of that activity in the pockets of the Band of Brothers guys. There’s humor, there’s chaos, there’s danger, there’s everything you could imagine it takes place in chaos in a chaotic situations in combat. So we went through it all.

It’s a tough job, walking a squad through a minefield, it’s risky.

Rick:

Now, I understand that your memoirs have been published?

Tom:

Yes, my D-Day activities. That took about five years, because nothing was ever witnessed, with the dropped in the wrong drop zone, and we were spread out so far that nobody knew what was going on. We didn’t get together for over a week. 

So I had to piece together a lot of stuff, and it took about three four years to get that done. But it’s been published since 2004. It’s called Trial by Combat. I was thinking of continuing on and writing Market Garden, but that got so complicated, and there were such odd maneuvers that it would have to take a week to study that thing to find out what was going on. 

So I plotted all of the areas where I worked as a staff and patrol leader, and made diagrams of that, and then I could remind myself a little better what was going on. So we’ve got a Frenchman that’s going to do the writing for them for the wrest. No co-editor with him and we’ll see if we can finish that up in November. Trial by combat is being published in Sweden.

Trial By Combat

Rick:

No kidding.

Tom:

And they’ve already sold five hundred copies.

Rick:

I’m on Amazon right now looking at the cover of your book, Trial by Combat: A Paratrooper of the 101st Airborne Division Remembers the 1944 Battle of Normandy. I’m buying me a copy right now, and I encourage all of our listeners to go do the exact same thing. What a treasure. 

Mr. Rice, I am honored to have had this much time with you.

Tom:

It was a very interesting interview. It was as profitable for me as it was for you.

Rick:

It was God bless you sir. Thank you for everything.

Tom:

Thank you very much.

Rick:

That was World War Two veteran Tom Rice. What an honor. We are back with David and Tim Barton. Now, guys,  first of all I just want to say, Tim, you do about half of these veteran interviews now. I don’t know how this one ended up on my list, but I’m so glad it did. That was so amazing to get to that guy!

Tim:

I got shot twice. It’s no big deal. I got shot at one time and I kept moving, and then he shot me again at six inches of bone hanging out, and in a third shot—you know, just a standard day at the office.

Yeah. What’s it like. Oh my gosh! I was like, “You have six inches of bone sticking out. How did you maneuver?” 

“Well hey, give me your gun, and I’ll turn it upside down, and let’s just get out.” 

Oh, my gosh, this dude is unbelievable!

You definitely had a very cool interview, and the story of what he went through is absolutely amazing.

An Amazing Story

David:

Well, I was thinking even the weight.

He is one hundred thirty seven pounds. That’s about me. But he had one hundred and thirty nine pounds of gear when he jumped. When you hit the ground with one hundred and thirty nine pounds of gear round three hundred thirty seven pound frame, that would drive you into the ground about two feet, I would think. No wonder he had to cut his way out of his gear. Yeah, I’m just… Oh my gosh.

By the way, and when he gets shot the first time he says, “Yeah. Nicked an artery. My boot felt really warm and wet.” 

My gosh.

Tim:

And then, “Hold out your hands,” and they dump mashed potatoes in his hands.

He stands there and holds them for a few minutes to get warm before, “I just nibbled on it along the way, it just felt so nice in my hands.”

David:

Oh my gosh. These guys and what they went through… I’ll tell you, having done so much with military, speaking there, and having kids in the military, and being with just a lot of military folks, for him to go back over 75 years later and he talked about meeting the commanding general of the paratroopers, and talked about meeting the theater commander over in Europe, and how thrilled he was at 97… 

I don’t care what age you are as a soldier. Most guys never get to meet their commanding general, or a theater commander. 

And there he is, at 97, almost like a private again. 

And I thought, “Man, this guy’s still got it in him. He still is one of those military guys, and still has the same respect and veneration for the institution the military and how it operates.” 

A Great Way to Learn History

It also hasn’t changed that much over the years that he still has that all today when he meets those guys. So there was just so much he had. 

And by the way, would I love to have him as my history teacher. Oh yeah. He would be the guy I would want teach in World War Two history. This would be so fun.

Rick:

Well, David, this is a great chance for people to have him teach history to their kids and grandkids. Man, take this radio interview right here. Go to WallBuildersLive.com today and yesterday’s program. Share it with your family, and you’ll be, literally, getting taught history by someone that lived World War Two and fought in some of the most famous battles of World War 2. 

And of course, we have tons of other interviews like that. Other guys that were right there with the band of brothers, others that were in some of those famous battles of the Vietnam War and the Korean War. All of that. We’ve got some incredible interviews available for you at WallBuildersLive.com, so go to those archives there. 

Then, of course, we got the C.D. that we put together with some of the interviews from every branch and every war. That’s available on the website as well. 

What an honor for us to get to bring this to you. We hope that you will share it with as many people as possible. This is one of those shows we really encourage and challenge you to put on Facebook, and e-mail it out to your friends and family so that they can experience the same amazing story from Tom Rice. 

Really, really appreciate him taking time, and being with us today, and sharing his incredible story. 

Tom Rice Shares His Story and More on WallBuilders Live

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