World War II Vet Jumps from Plane to Celebrate 100th Birthday

A World War II veteran decided to celebrate his 100th birthday in a major way — by jumping out of an airplane.

Thomas Rice, a World War II paratrooper, performed a tandem parachute jump in his hometown of Coronado, California, on Sunday. As reported by Fox 35 News, Rice and a member of Skydive Palatka jumped from the Commemorative Air Force's (CAF) D-Day Squadron C-53 D-Day Doll, Rice's favorite aircraft.

"It's unbelievable what you can view from up there," Rice told Fox 5 San Diego. "We do a lot of maneuvering up there. That was a lot of fun."

Crowds cheered as Rice made his triumphant landing on the beach in front of the Hotel del Coronado. Video from the event shows that "Happy 100th birthday Tom Rice" was written in the sand near where he landed.

According to the World War II Airborne Demonstration Team, Rice served in the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. News 4 Jax reports that he served as a platoon sergeant and commanded 12 paratroopers until jumping into Normandy in 1944 as part of Operation Overlord, more commonly known as D-Day.

D-Day of course served as a major turning point in the war, with Germany surrendering less than a year later.

Three months after landing on the beaches of Normandy, Rice parachuted into Holland and later served in Bastogne, where he was wounded. However, a dedicated serviceman, he recovered and re-joined his unit to help end the war.

"He managed to get back just in time for the capture of Hitler's Eagles Nest and seeing the end of the war," said the Airborne Demonstration Team in a Facebook post celebrating Rice.

In the years following the war, Rice went on to earn a degree from San Diego State University and taught both history and social sciences in the state of California for 44 years. He also published a memoir titled: "Trial by Combat: A Paratrooper of the 101st Airborne Division Remembers the 1944 Battle of Normandy."

Sunday's jump isn't the first time Rice has jumped from a plane in recent years.

Operation Call-To-Service — the organization that organized Rice's centennial birthday event in Coronado — said in a news release that Rice parachuted over Normandy on June 5, 2019, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

When asked what it was like to jump again, 75 years later, Rice said: "My hope is the next generations will always remember the men who came and fought for them, many sacrificing their lives to liberate the world. May we never forget them."

Thomas Rice
World War II veteran Thomas Rice recently jumped out of a plane to celebrate his 100th birthday. Pictured above is Rice prior to his parachute jump at the airbase of Eindhoven on September 19, 2019. VINCENT JANNINK / Contributor/Getty

Updated 08/18/2021, 3:09 p.m. ET: This story has been updated to reflect that Thomas Rice served in Bastogne, where he was wounded.