Returning to Normandy 75 years later

Palatka businessman helps 97-year-old jump again to mark D-Day anniversary

Seventy-five years ago today – D-Day – Tom Rice was a 22-year-old descending into gunfire and darkness over Carentan, France. Yesterday, Rice got a helping hand from a Palatka business owner and performed the historic jump once again.

For the last six months, the 97-year-old Rice, of San Diego, trained to parachute into Normandy once more. Only this time he would not be jumping alongside his U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division squad mates.

Instead, Skydive Palatka owner Art Shaffer performed a tandem jump with Rice to commemorate the 75thanniversary of the Normandy landings.

“It is just such an honor. I can’t even describe how big of an honor this is for me,” Shaffer said this earlier week. “I have been truly blessed to be able to do what I do, and to be able relive that day with him in this way, it is just indescribable.”

Shaffer said his involvement with honoring the anniversary of D-Day has grown over the years due to Skydive Palatka supporting the Round Canopy Parachute Team. Several members of the group were in Normandy for the jumps Wednesday, bringing the experience full circle.

On Wednesday, Rice was not laden with weapons and prepared to go into battle with the enemy like he was 75-years ago. This time he was equipped with a custom-made harness and an American flag fluttering beneath him as he landed almost exactly where he did in 1944.

“When you think about that happened back then, the Third Reich basically had taken over all of Europe. … It was huge,” Shaffer said. “We have to remember things like that. It is honoring people who gave everything so that we have everything we have today.”

It is estimated that 156,000 allied troops landed in Normandy on D-Day. Each of them, Shaffer said, is a hero who deserves to be remembered. Rice is one of these heroes, making what he did Wednesday so important.

By Shaffer’s accounts, Rice is extremely humble about the sacrifices he and thousands of others made. He is not the type to constantly remind people he is a hero. But what he did 75 years ago, and what he did yesterday, undoubtedly makes him one.

“If you met him outside of this whole situation, you probably wouldn’t know that he is a war hero. … It is just him being Tom Rice. He is very humble,” Shaffer said. “At the same time, he is willing to tell his story. He thinks that is the thing to do to show how many young men did this that day.”

“It went perfect, perfect jump,” Rice told the Associated Press after catching his breath. “I feel great. I’d go up and do it all again.”

Asked how his D-Day comrades would have felt about him jumping, Rice said, “They would love it.”

“Some of them couldn’t handle it. Many of them are deceased. We had 38% casualties,” he said.

Like many other veterans, he said he remains troubled by the war.

“All the GIs suffer from same blame and shame,” Rice said. “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,” he said.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Palatka Daily News

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