Anchorage resident remembers Normandy Paratrooper as his high school coach

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The last time 80-year-old Robert Thompson saw his high school track and field coach, Tom Rice, was at a high school reunion -- that is until just a few days ago when he saw him on TV jumping out of an airplane.

Staff Sgt. Tom Rice is a 97-year-old Normandy veteran who at just 22 years old jumped into the Normandy Countryside to fight for freedom. On Wednesday, Rice made that same jump just as he did 75 years ago, only this time without being shot at.

Rice's parachute jump made the news, as Robert Thompson watched, surprised to see his former coach reliving the historic jump at 97 years old.

"I recognized him as soon as I saw him," said Thompson. "What surprised me was he was 97 years old and he still looked as good as he did, and the other thing that surprised me was he didn't hesitate a minute to jump the same jump that he did in 1944."

Thompson, who now lives in Anchorage, was a member of the track and field team at Chula Vista High School in California in the early 1950s where he was coached by Rice. Rice went on to author his own book, giving a personal account of his experience as a paratrooper during the battle of Normandy. Thompson was one of the first people to receive a copy.

"My best wishes, remembering all our cross country races. Thomas Rice," Thompson read, reading the autographed copy signed by Rice.

"I had a motor scooter, and I'd ride that motor scooter to school all the time. He borrowed my motor scooter and he'd run with the cross country team. Well one time one of the other guys running on the team said, 'You know, Tom's always riding that motor scooter. If he wasn't riding that motor scooter he'd think twice before making us do all that running.' Well, Tom heard him say it and the next day he came in he wouldn't ride my motor scooter. We went out and ran 10 or 12 miles and he beat all of us."

Thompson says Rice was by far the best coach he ever had, and an inspiration.

"Everything he did, he did good, and he never bragged about anything," said Thompson. "We never even knew he jumped out of a plane on D-Day on 1944. We didn't know that until we graduated. He was a good coach, he was a good man and he never forgot you."

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