American WWII veteran Thomas M. Rice, a paratrooper with the 501st Parachute InfantryRegiment of the 101st Airborne, turns 100 years old today. His hometown of Coronado, California, and the huge military community at the US Navy Base in San Diego, are joining efforts to celebrate this hero.
They are not alone. The city of Carentan les Marais in Normandy – France also wishes to thank its 1944 liberator. An imposing portrait was displayed to that effect on the Place de la République in Carentan as a tribute to this great American friend.
Tom had, as we remember, marked many spirits by renewing, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the D day landing, his jump of June 1944 on the edge of Carentan. Tom Rice’s adventures and peregrinations in Normandy in 1944, while commanding a mortar squad, are indelibly associated with Carentan. Tom was one of the three men in charge of the patrol on the night of June 6-7, guarding the south bank of the Douve River at the La Barquette locks. A few days later, it was in the Billonnerie sector that Tom stood his ground against SS Grenadiers.
Tom’s attachment to Normandy and Carentan was, however, slow to come to light. As he wrote in his memoirs of the Battle of Normandy (Trial by Combat), Tom had long been convinced that the French did not like the American soldiers who had caused so much destruction. «We ate all their chickens and destroyed their homes,» he said. On the eve of the 75th anniversary, Jean Pierre Lhonneur, Mayor of Carentan les Marais, suggested that Tom come and see for himself the extent of the gratitude of the Normans. Deeply touched, Tom now claims loud and clear his French lineage. He is indeed the direct descendant of Marie Catherine Avaligne and Pierre Serrot, two emigrants who left Tracy le Mont in Oise in 1791 to create the town of Gallipoli, Ohio. Tom now dreams of only one thing, to return to Carentan in 2022 for his 101st birthday to celebrate his glorious 101st Airborne with a new jump.