101st Airborne Vet Tom Rice Brings Band Of Brothers To Life Part One: 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: 07/23/2019

Guest: Tom Rice

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


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Transcription note:  As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.

Faith And The Culture

RICK:

Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture; it’s WallBuilders Live! where we talk about today’s hottest topics on policy, faith, and the culture. And, sometimes we have very, very special programs where we get to interview veterans from throughout our history and share their story of defending freedom.

We do that for several reasons: one, because they’re just interesting and incredible to get to visit with these folks. The stories are just mind boggling sometimes. But, also because it helps remind us what the price of freedom was.

Freedom Isn’t Free

It reminds us that if it weren’t for these veterans that were willing to defend that freedom, we would not be enjoying such an amazing country today. And so, we want to honor their sacrifice by telling their story, but then we want to let their story inspire us to go live out our freedom in a way that preserves and protects it for future generations. So, this is a very purposeful thing when we have our veterans on the program to share their stories.

We get to interview all kinds of veterans out there, and we’re always honored to do that. But, today we have a very, very special guest on the program. I’m a little bit biased on this one.

Tim, I think you too probably because we’re fans of Band of Brothers. We’ve watched it, how many hundreds of times? Well, this guy we’re going to have on is one of the Band of Brothers. 

He’s in Charlie Company. Easy company is the one the show follows. He’s in Charlie Company and experiences all those same things.

I think we’re about to literally experience the entire Band of Brothers series on our radio program as we talk to veteran Tom Rice today and hear about his experience.

TIM:

Yeah, maybe a little less bloodshed and swearing, right? Maybe a little more food, some air conditioning, some comfort, right? But, I mean, really, Rick, we’ve commented on this many times, how special it is that we get to interview veterans, World War Two veterans especially, because of what they went through in their story.

Band of Brothers

And, a lot of times we talked to a veteran and they go, “Hey, what I did wasn’t that big of a deal.” Oftentimes, they downplay their story. Then, they’ll tell you their story, and you’re like, “Wait a second.

“You’re the guy who actually, like, Battle of the Bulge and D-Day.” And, their story unfolds. Then, sometimes it was, “Well, I was just the guy driving the Jeep for General Patton; that’s all I did it was to drive a jeep.”

You’re like, “Yeah, it was General Patton; that’s amazing.”

RICK:

Right.

TIM:

In the midst of all the amazing that we’ve heard and all of the wonderful stories that we’ve been able to learn from and celebrate, we now have a guy who literally was part of what’s been one of the greatest military series ever. You have Saving Private Ryan; you have Band of Brothers. When it comes to your iconic military movies, or in this case, TV show Band of Brothers, this is a guy who not only was that era and so much of that story, but we already know a little bit of the detail.

We’ve seen some articles and read some things about his adventure, even into later years of life. This guy is amazing, and we get to spend some time talking with him. It really is exciting.

An Amazing Hero

RICK:

A genuine American hero, no doubt about it. And, some of the things that we’re going to talk to him about, people are going to recognize from history. If you’re not a–if you haven’t studied World War Two too much or watched many of these programs, some of this may not have heard before.

But, when we start talking about Carentan and, as you mentioned, the Battle of the Bulge or Operation Market Garden, all of these things, he went through all of that. I mean, here’s a guy that was part of the 101st Airborne. As we mentioned, he was Charlie Company, so Company C in the 501st.

This is going to be amazing.

TIM:

And, even as you’re saying that, I recognize the culture we live in, my people, I’m a Millennial. My people are not as well educated as your people when it comes to some of these stories. Your people might not know as much as my dad’s people because you’re like mostly gray; he’s all gray.

I’m beginning gray, right? The hair phases along the way.

Make Note of Something

But, even as you’re saying these things, like What’s Market Garden? This can be a great opportunity, not just to hear an amazing story, but make note of something. Well, I don’t know what that is, what happened there.

Well, make note of it. Then, go look up and see what happened. See the bravery and courage that was involved for this operation to take place.

See the loss of life, the casualties. Learn more about the American story because, one of the reasons we’re so patriotic, is that we know the price that has been paid over the years. We’ve learned what we have in America is so special; and, part of why we can enjoy that is because of people like this and what they did.

So, if you were hearing words, mission titles, and names and are like I have no idea what that is, make note of it, look it up when you have a chance. Don’t do it when you’re driving; unless you’re stuck in traffic, and then maybe pull out your phone to look while you’re not moving in traffic, right? Depending on where you hear this, make note and look it up because this is an amazing story.

RICK:

Tom Rice is going to be with us when we come back from the break. And, just to prepare you for who this guy is: not only was he part of the 101st and a paratrooper on D-Day, jumping in as you’ve seen in the TV shows or movies,  and then fighting there at Carentan in all the battles that took place, but get this.

Still Jumping

Last month, at 97 years old, he jumped again. He clearly was skydiving at 97 years old in the very spot where, on D-Day, we went into Normandy. I mean, it’s just hard to believe.

So, this is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and he jumped again and had some great ceremonies there where they had some paratroopers reenlisting. And, he was there as the honored guest. This phenomenal guy is going to be with us when we come back from the break; and, you get to hear it right here on WallBuilders Live! 

By the way, it’s going to take two days. So, at the end of today’s program, get ready. We’re going to finish it off tomorrow.

Then, both will be available on our website at WallBuildersLive.com. Tom Rice is our special guest today on WallBuidlers Live!

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!

Welcome Tom Rice

RICK:

Welcome back to WallBuilders Live! Our special guest today, who we are honored to have, is Tom Rice. He was born in Coronado, California on August 15, 1921, and fought in World War Two.

He’s here to share his story with us. Mr. Rice, thank you so much for your time today.

TOM RICE:

You’re welcome.

RICK:

Well, we appreciate you coming on and sharing a little bit with us. You’ve got an amazing story. You were one of the paratroopers that went in on D-Day and was part of liberating an entire continent for freedom.

Man, many people today just don’t realize the price that was paid for freedom; so, we’re excited to be able to share your part of that story.

TOM RICE:

Thank you.

RICK:

Now, you were born in Coronado, California. When did you actually join the army?

TOM RICE:

It was October 17, 1943.

RICK:

In 1943. So, how much training did you get before you actually went to Europe?

Training Time

TOM RICE:

Two years plus. We probably had more training than the regular infantry were had. All of our officers were West Pointers, and they were gung ho.

They put us through the ropes really fast. And, the regimental colonel wanted athletes and college boys. I think we went to about 4000 of them to get 2000.

So, they ran us through pretty fast in four different camps.

RICK:

Did  you know when you signed up that you wanted to be a paratrooper?

TOM RICE:

I enlisted directly into the 501 Parachute Infantry Regiment.

RICK:

And, what makes a guy want to do that?

TOM RICE:

I don’t know how much of it is crazy. And, I liked the idea of 50 dollars a month jump-pay.

RICK:

All right; so, two years of training and, I guess, most of that in Georgia. Then, you shipped out in 1944, and were part of Company C 501st?

TOM RICE:

I was in Company C, Battalion 1, 501 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

RICK:4

And, you guys were dropped in on D-Day. Did you have a pretty good idea of how big the operation was, or were you only focused on your part? Did you realize how big this was gonna be?

Assigned to Lieutenant Colonel Carroll

TOM RICE:

No, we were focused, and the focus was very narrow. I was assigned to Lieutenant Colonel Carroll and had to be his gofer for the most part on June 5. And, I had to stay with him, know where he was and what he was doing.

Plus, if anyone wanted to communicate with him, I had to jump in, find him, and get to get the communication to him. So, most of the company saw a diorama, a projected area of about 3000 feet altitude. I didn’t get to see that at all; so, I didn’t know what was going on, really, until I got back to that company and joined the colonel.

He gave us a nice speech. Lieutenant Colonel Carroll had a piece of plywood four-feet-by-eight-feet {that had} a simulation of Tojo on one side and Hitler on the other side. He’d stand there, about 50 feet, and throw his bowie knife at it.

RICK:

Wow.

TOM RICE:

One time when he did that, it bounced off, came back, and hit him. That was kind of a laughing stock of the regiment for the most part.

RICK:

And you met him pretty close to June 6 before you were gonna jump, or were you there for a while before the jump?

TOM RICE:

Oh, we were in {our} area from June 1 to June 5.

RICK:

Okay.

TOM RICE:

And, we were in Lambourn, England from January 1, 1944, until D-day. Then, 37 days of combat in Normandy. From that point, we returned to England from Normandy and got replacements.

D-Day

We had 38 percent casualty and had to work to get the recruits, the new boys, in as best we could because we had 18 parachute jumps {that went to paper.} And, we went to the small air {groams} that we had started our D-Day process on. I knew that we weren’t gonna jump because they didn’t issue ammunition.

They gave us everything but the ammunition. So, when I was called {inaudible: Lynnette One}; another was called {inaudible Annette Two}, and I can’t remember the names of the other 16 or 17 of them.

But the infantry began to move; and so, we just waited for the next call. The last call came September 17, 1944. So, we jumped in Holland.

Operation Market Garden

RICK:

So, you had already been at Normandy for 37 days of combat. Then, you went back in at Holland. You were part of Operation Market Garden, then.

TOM RICE:

Yeah. Right. Yes, yes.

That was 90 some days there at Market Garden, working with the British Army.

RICK:

Wow. Okay, so take me back to D-Day when you guys are loading up on that plane the night before. What’s going through your hea?

I mean, you know you’re about to–this one’s for real now. No more training, this is the real deal.

TOM RICE:

Well, I only heard it–when I got back to the regimental Colonel, he was standing on the hood of a jeep covered with a camouflaged parachute. He was gonna make a nice speech. And, he gave us gung-ho, Knute-Rockne-football-coach speech. And he reached down on his leg to pull out his bowie knife, but it wouldn’t come out; it got stuck.

RICK:

Oh no.

The Night Before

TOM RICE:

But then, he reached and pulled out his M1 trench knife, held it over his head, filled the air with sulphuric fumes of acetic words, and said he wanted to shake hands with every one of us. So, we all lined up, and the whole regiment shook hands with the colonel. Then, we went for dinner: steak, peas, and carrots, basically the British menu.

And, from there we went on to the airport where we took showers, put on our clothes–five layers of clothing. The outer layer was a gas-impregnated kind of material that would identify some of the poisonous gases.

RICK:

Oh.

TOM RICE:

Then, we practiced loading our bundles underneath the aircraft. They were  double-ended, double-caped, and had two lights on them. When it was released from the aircraft and hit the ground, both lights would go on; so, it would be red-red.

We had to memorize what the color combinations were. For instance, red-red would be ammunition or machine guns. And so, it went on like that with six bundles; there’s 1800 pounds of bundles right there, plus one on the door.

RICK:

Wow.

TOM RICE:

So, that made a pretty good load.

Loaded Down

RICK:

I’ve always wondered and wanted to ask one of you guys. In the movies and television or whatnot, that scene of getting ready to jump, the guys are always so loaded down. Was it like that?

Did you feel like you just had tons of equipment and wondered what that was going to–I mean, it looks incredible.

TOM RICE:

Well, it was; it was unbelievable. I weighed, when I went out that door, I weighed 276 pounds. My normal weight was 137.

RICK:

Oh wow.

TOM RICE:

It was all {inaudible} bric-brac that we might need. But, when I hit the ground, jumping at the unpredictable altitude–the jump altitude was 750; but, we swung off from Section 14. We were supposed to jump in a drop zone B; but, it was underwater.

So, we dropped over drop zone D. I landed in a pasture that was clear with nobody in it. And, everything was so tight on me that I couldn’t get it out and get off the harness.

But, it had a double zipper under my chin; so, I open that up and got my switchblade knife to start sawing through the webbing. Then, the number two and number three man came up, and they had the mortar. And, we reached the canal, got together, stole a wheelbarrow from some Frenchman, and went out after our bundles that were spread all over the place in trees, in the swamp, on dry land, and every place you could possibly imagine.

RICK:

Did most of your equipment make it with you, that you jumped with and were actually connected to? Did you manage to get most of your equipment?

Radio Equipment

TOM RICE:

Well, the only equipment that we had was in our pockets and what we could carry, nothing else. For instance, you might be referring to radio equipment; they were experimenting with that. Everything we did was experimental.

And, for instance, the 536 radio, which was a backpack item, was put in a barracks bag; then, a rope was connected to it and to the jumpers harness. And it was about a 30-foot length. That would hit the ground first and would provide an unstable landing for him; but, he had to get used to it.

All the other equipment was put into bundles underneath the aircraft, 1800 hundred pounds of that stuff. So, we had to find those.

RICK:

Yeah.

TOM RICE:

That was a chore, finding those, because we were playing hide and go seek and cops and robbers with the enemy, then trying to find our equipment.

RICK:

Hey, take me back up into the airplane again. When you were about to jump, this time for real, and knowing you were headed into enemy territory, what was going through your mind as you were leaving that plane?

TOM RICE:

Well, that was jump number one. And we had stood up, hooked up, and checked equipment. We closed up, and my left foot was, for the most part, half of it was out of the door, and were 176 miles in the air.

We can’t jump at that speed, and the pilot was asked by the {inaudible} Lieutenant Jansen to throw that thing down. And, he wouldn’t do it. We were c-flying back and forth.

Falling Out

And, Bowman was ill. We were hanging on, pushing hard against each other. So, we closed up real tight.

We could unload that aircraft in probably about 15 seconds. But, when I went out the door, the prop blast hit me, and my left arm got caught in the lower left corner of the door. As the prop blast pushed me up against the body of the plane, I flung out twice and then a second swing.

I turned my arm just a little bit, my body, a little bit more, and I got free. So, I was probably at 500 feet by that time.

RICK:

You’re literally hanging off the side of the plane.

TOM RICE:

Yes, for all practical purposes, yes. I was kind of upside down. My back was toward the earth and I was looking up at the rudder of the aircraft.

RICK:

Wow. And, this is–you guys are taking flak as well, right? I mean, there’s flak all over coming up. Was it actually hitting the plane at all?

TOM RICE:

Well, that’s problematical and probably guesswork. There may have been some machine gun bullets hitting the left wing, and their gas tanks were not self-sealing. The only thing I worried about was that those bullets would come up through the fuselage of the aircraft and might change my plumbing.

RICK:

Well, man. Oh, I can’t even imagine. Okay.

So, you finally get free from the plane. It was going, almost, sounds like 50 percent faster than it should have been when you guys jump. Then, I’m assuming at that point that you’re really spread out. Everybody’s–you’ve got to find each other and find the equipment.

Crickets

TOM RICE:

Yeah. We had the crickets; you know the crickets?

RICK:

No—well, you did the little sound so you knew it was your buddy.

TOM RICE:

It was a little a little item made by a {inaudible} company, I believe. And, you press it once, and then it goes “click-click.” Then, you wait and listen.

You wait for a cricket at some distance. Then, you answered with a double click. And, hopefully that’s Americans doing the same thing in. So, we’d keep clicking toward each other until maybe but at a time where we can see each other.

We may have four clicks going; and then, the password was “flash;” I’d say “Flash” to the person whom I thought was an American. And, he would come back with “Thunder.”  And, I would prove myself by telling him, “Welcome;” so, it was: “flash,” “thunder,” “welcome.”

RICK:

Wow.

TOM RICE:

Then, we’d get up, pat each other on the back, and recognize who we were. We studied the physical features of the guys, how they walked and talked, because we came from all over all the parts of the country. You can imagine the different dialects; so, that was one of our techniques.

RICK:

Did you end up finding most of the guys from your unit; or, did you did you end up with guys from another unit?

Casualties

TOM RICE:

We had eight company commanders killed. Lieutenant Colonel Carroll was killed in his parachute as he came down. Major Gage was engaged with a German machine gun group and got his arm shot off.

There were some casualties that occurred. So, we didn’t get together until probably over a week and a half at most.

RICK:

Wow.

TOM RICE:

We knew about where we were and did have a few maps. Putting three maps together made some sense that one map alone didn’t. And, we were out of food.

We had probably three days of rations. I got the parachute off of me; and, when I landed, I got rid of a lot of junk, such as {inaudible}, a gas mask, some other items, and unfortunately I dropped rations and was out of luck; so, I had to rely on what I could get from a farmer’s milk, cheese, and bread.

RICK:

How was that? Were they generally welcoming of you guys?

Paul Verlaine’s Poetry

TOM RICE:

Yeah, they were they were in good spirits knew, for the most part, what was going on because a lot of the people in that area were in the French Resistance, the Marquis, or FFI. And, the British Broadcasting Company was broadcasting poetry, Paul Verlaine’s poetry: “The long sobs of autumn’s violins wound my heart with a monotonous languor.” And, that meant that within 48 hours, the invasion will start.

RICK:

Wow.

TOM RICE:

Then, there was continuous broadcast in the second stanza. I don’t remember that one. But, when the second broadcast came through with Paul Verlaine’s poetry, it meant that the invasion is on.

RICK:

Wow. Okay, so you guys land, find some of your unit, and eventually have, I guess, about a day and a half of almost solid fighting whenever you guys were at what’s called Hell’s Corner.

TOM RICE:

Oh, yeah. That was a {pistol off the unit}. We had, from Major Allen, he grouped some of us that were close by. And it’s about the time we moved toward Hell’s Corner, the German Sixth Parachute Infantry Regiment was {in a party} June 5 and had one battalion at Carentan, another one at {inaudible: Trier}, and the third one was near the beach, Utah.

Carentan

And, the observers from the German unit in Carentan post had a myopic view of what was going down, because they could see American soldiers in their high-powered fuel glasses and German soldiers who didn’t know what was going on. So, they waited for a little bit, and things began to develop there. I was right next to a Lieutenant Parker, a Naval officer who jumped with us, and he had constant communication with the USS Quincy, and a cruiser in the English Channel. So, we finally got to make contact with our regimental Colonel Johnson, and he knew we needed some help.

Highway 13 was, for the most part, occupied by Germans. And, we were surrounded again. He called Lieutenant Parker to make communication with the Quincy.

And, they substantiated their communication by asking football questions and the correct answers. So, three rounds came in with the day whistle, and it must have been 150 feet over my head.

RICK:

Wow.

Execution Stopped

TOM RICE:

They bombarded the Germans on Highway 15. For the most part that stopped them; but, a few of them got into {inaudible: Saint-Paul-de-Vence} where we had an aid station and created some problems there.  Father Sampson, our Catholic chaplain who set up the aid station, had some fellows that were really badly wounded and were making a lot of noise.

I think if the Germans found any ammunition, rifles, or bric-a-brac there, they would probably shot them all; but, he didn’t. And, they took him out, as far as I recall, they took him out to Father Sampson out down the road about a quarter of a mile and we’re going to put him up against the wall with six rifle men going to shoot him.

And, he had on his helmet a Christian cross. Down the road, maybe 100 yards, came a German officer with a chain around his neck with a Christian cross. And, he saw what was going on and stopped the execution.

RICK:

No kidding. The German officer did.

TOM RICE:

Yeah.

Bastogne

RICK:

Wow. Okay, so you actually ended up then after that, going back to England, preparing for Market Garden. Then, you were dropped over Holland for Market Garden.

After that, you actually ended up at Bastogne, right?

TOM RICE:

Yeah, I ended up in Bastogne like the rest of the regiment. Bastogne was really the objective of the 82nd Airborne; but, the north of that at {inaudible: San Veece} some problems really developed that needed close attention. So, the 82nd was sent to {inaudible: San Veece}, and the 101st occupied Bastogne.

Veteran Tom Rice, Brings War II to Life

RICK:

Friends, we are out of time for today. You’ve been listening to Tom Rice, World War Two veteran, here on our program on WallBuilders Live! We’re going to pick up tomorrow right where we left off today.

The rest of the story is just amazing. It is absolutely incredible. So thankful for Tom Rice joining us here on WallBuilders Live!

You don’t want to miss tomorrow for the conclusion of our special interview with World War Two veteran Tom Rice. Thanks so much for listening today to WallBuilders Live!