CORONADO, Calif. — Hundreds of people from around the world arrived in San Diego to pay their respects to a World War II legend.
U.S. Army veteran and Coronado native Tom Rice served in the 101st Airborne and parachuted into Normandy on D-Day.
He dedicated his life to ensuring Americans didn't forget the sacrifices made during the global conflict.
Tom Rice said he wanted to jump until he was age 100 and did that on Coronado beaches in 2021, surrounded by hundreds of supporters.
He lived a life filled with inspiration, where he made his impact on the military, the community, and in the classroom.
Underneath the WWII 101st Airborne, Screaming Eagles uniform was an exemplary man who parachuted into gunfire and stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
“He was a man of few words, but what he said they were powerful words, they were very deliberate words, and that's what started our friendship,” said retired U.S. Navy Captain Steven Shepard.
He delivered Rice’s eulogy on Saturday, where more than 400 people attended the public memorial, including current members of the 101st Airborne stationed in Kentucky.
“In a sense, Tom was a bridge, from the past to the present. Tom allows us to walk over that bridge to understand what happened to have a connection,” said Shepard. “And from that, we were much greater as Americans.”
His greatness was felt in France too.
“He’s our hero," said Denis van den Brink
The author flew from Carentan, the French city that Rice helped liberate during WWII, and wrote the Bronze Star recipient's memoir, The Heroes of Carentan.
“The end of the announcement of his passing, you wouldn't believe our reaction in France all over. It's amazing, amazing,” said van den Brink.
Rice died at the age of 101 on November 17, while Sgt. Rice was known for his bravery and parachuting on D-day anniversaries; he also earned the Purple Heart medal for his sacrifices in the Battle of the Bulge.
After returning from the war, Rice spent his career as a high school social studies teacher at Chula Vista and Hilltop High Schools.
“It's interesting to see that facet of teaching the next generation how to be strong, confident, fearless, and yet he did it in such a gentle way as well,” said CJ Machado, Rice’s friend.
The veteran’s humility was seen when he volunteered for Honor Flight San Diego and spoke to students about his service.
“He would go into a whisper, ‘never forget,’ so that it would burn into our souls, that spirit of remembrance and sacrifice,” said Machado.
A selfless man who carried the stories of sacrifice and the cost of freedom.
“Tom held the nation's hand and kept it from falling in WWII; in the final days is our chance to hold his hand and keep him from falling,” said Shepard.
More than 400 were expected to attend Tom Rice's memorial. The public was invited to attend the celebration of life on Saturday, December 3, 2022, at Coronado High School’s Performing Arts Center, 650 D. Avenue in Coronado.
Tom’s wife, Brenda, has requested that donations be made to Honor Flight San Diego instead of flowers in Tom’s memory. The donations are tax-deductible and will help get more of Tom’s military brothers and sisters on their Honor Flight.
Watch: Interview: Retired Captain Stevan Shepard reflects on Tom Rice’s life ahead of delivering the eulogy