D-Day veteran, 97, parachutes into Normandy 75 years later

Parachutists are jumping over Normandy again, just as soldiers did 75 years ago for D-Day.

Engines throbbing, C-47 transport planes dropped group after group of parachutists, a couple of hundred in all - including a 97-year-old D-Day veteran Tom Rice.

Rice spoke to Fox News about his experience, both then and now.

"Everything was, for the most part, repeated except this is a daylight jump and the Normandy jump in ’44 was a nighttime jump. I didn’t know where I was. I knew where I was here! We had the American flag flying below us, I couldn’t see it but I’m sure it was very beautiful," Rice told Martha MacCallum on "The Story."

The jumpers were honoring the airborne soldiers who descended into gunfire and death ahead of the June 6, 1944, seaborne invasion.

He added: "I represent the United States coming here. … I really appreciate all the love and their kindness and their heartfelt emotions."

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U.S. World War II paratrooper veteran Tom Rice, 97, in the commemorative parachute jump over Carentan on the Normandy coast on Wednesday. 

U.S. World War II paratrooper veteran Tom Rice, 97, in the commemorative parachute jump over Carentan on the Normandy coast on Wednesday.  (Reuters)

The landing zone for Wednesday's operation: fields of wildflowers outside Carentan, one of the objectives of the thousands of paratroopers who entered occupied France from the sky dropped over Normandy in the D-Day prelude.

"It went perfect, perfect jump," Rice said after his jump. "I feel great. I'd go up and do it all again."

Rice, of San Diego, jumped with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division on that momentous day 75 years ago, landing safely despite catching himself on the exit and a bullet striking his parachute. He called the 1944 jump "the worst jump I ever had."

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"I got my left armpit caught in the lower left-hand corner of the door so I swung out, came back and hit the side of the aircraft, swung out again and came back, and I just tried to straighten my arm out and I got free," he told The Associated Press in an interview.

His jump on Wednesday was a different story. He came down in tandem with another parachutist, after preparing for six months with a physical trainer.

D-Day veteran Tom Rice celebrating after parachuting in the tandem jump. 

D-Day veteran Tom Rice celebrating after parachuting in the tandem jump.  (AP)

Rice flew down with an American flag fluttering beneath him and landed to a wave of applause from the crowd of thousands that gathered to watch the aerial display.

Other parachutists jumped with World War II souvenirs, some carrying items their grandfathers took into battle. Many spectators wore war-era uniforms, and music of the time played over loudspeakers.

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Robert Schaefer, a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army's Green Berets who served in Afghanistan, carried whiskey, cigars and the dog tag and wallet his grandfather, George J. Ehmet, had with him when he fought as an artilleryman in France.

"I feel like I got to jump with my grandpa," Schaefer said afterward.

Approximately 200 parachutists participated in the jump over Normandy on Wednesday, replicating a jump made by U.S. soldiers on June 6, 1944, as a prelude to the seaborne invasions on D-Day. 

Approximately 200 parachutists participated in the jump over Normandy on Wednesday, replicating a jump made by U.S. soldiers on June 6, 1944, as a prelude to the seaborne invasions on D-Day.  (AP)

British parachutists jumped later Wednesday en masse over Sannerville. D-Day veterans were expected to be among them. The jumps were part of events marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

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 percent casualties," he said.

With the number of D-Day survivors dwindling fast, Rice said, "I represent a whole generation."

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

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"All the GIs suffer from the 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.

Fox News' Martha MacCallum and The Associated Press contributed to this report.