The following is Mark Rice’s account of his visit to Normandy with his father, Windsor Square resident and Veteran Bud Rice. Mark, his family and his brother accompanied Bud on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of D-Day. It was quite an experience. Thanks to Mark for sharing!
Overwhelming!!! That is the word that comes to mind whenever I am asked about my recent trip with my Dad, my children and my brother to Normandy, France a few weeks ago. We were there to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. My Dad, Bud Rice, was a pilot during the war and flew 700+ missions during his service. The most daring and surely the most challenging of all of them was on the night of June 6, 1944 as he dropped paratroopers into Normandy on that historical night. It was my first visit to Normandy and it was far and above my wildest imagination.
We knew it would be special but I just wasn’t expecting what we experienced. These veterans are simply treated like royalty. Yes it’s 70 years later, but the French people have not forgotten and they are incredibly grateful. They simply could not get enough of these vets. The genuine respect and gratitude that they display is touching to say the least. There are thousands of American flags being flown everywhere, and they are flown all year long. I am not exaggerating when I say that my Dad must have been asked for 1000+ photographs. He could not walk down the street without being stopped. It was very special to watch.
The Air Force also treated these guys like rock stars. They invited my Dad to sit in the cockpit of the new C-130 during a flight in and around Normandy. It is a very impressive aircraft. Our service men and women are equally impressive. In addition to the ride in the C-130, they allowed him to actually take the controls and fly the same C-47 (Whiskey 7) that he piloted 70 years ago. Yes it still flies and yes it is the same plane. Tom Brokaw was on board that flight with a film crew and reported the story on NBC Nightly News on June 5. Also on board during that flight were two other special guests. One was Bill Prindable, another veteran pilot that was in my Dad’s squadron and the other was Les Cruise, a veteran paratrooper who jumped out of this same plane on D-Day. How does one calculate the odds of all of this?
Our visit to the Normandy American Cemetery and later walking on Omaha and Utah Beach was quite a powerful and moving experience. As my imagination wandered and I pictured the troops storming the beaches or being dropped from the sky, I wondered how anyone survived it. There are a number of museums in the area that tell the story of D-Day and WWII in a very gripping way. They are all well worth visiting. On our last day there, along with 60,000 people, we watched as the Air Force dropped nearly 900 paratroopers in a reenactment ceremony. It was awesome! I tried to visualize what it was like that night 70 years ago with some 13,000 paratroopers from the 82nd and the 101st Airborne Divisions filling the sky. Immediately following the reenactment, my Dad and twelve other veterans were presented with the French Legion of Honor, France’s highest award. If you participated in D-Day and have the paperwork to document it, you are eligible to receive this award. It is not awarded posthumously however.
The trip was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity for our family. It was something that could never be duplicated. I struggle to find the words to describe it. It was nice to see these brave veterans being recognized for all that they survived and accomplished. They literally changed the course of history and that should never be forgotten. The toll was heavy to be sure but the price of freedom cannot be underestimated. I am thrilled that my children had the chance to be there. It was the trip of a lifetime!
Larchmont Buzz – Bud Rice Interviewed by Tom Brokaw on D-Day Anniversary