RANCHO SANTA FE — The R. Roger Rowe School in Rancho Santa Fe hosted a screening of CJ Machado and Mark A Vizcarra’s documentary film “Libertas” on Jan. 25 as part of a fundraising effort to raise money for Honor Flight, a nonprofit organization that transports war veterans to Washington, D.C., so they can visit memorials. Money was also raised in order to have World War II veteran Tom Rice return to Normandy so that he can make a return jump. Again.
Tom Rice was born Aug. 15, 1921, and graduated from Coronado High School in 1940. He served in the 101st Airborne Division during World War II and made the jump into Normandy as part of Operation Overlord in 1944. He returned to San Diego after the war’s end and spent the next approximately 44 years teaching history and social studies in California.
Rice became the subject of national news headlines last year when he made an assisted parachute jump into Normandy on the 75th anniversary of the invasion, at the age of 97. He became fit for the occasion by doing Cross Fit exercises.
“It’s a(n) amazing feat,” Rice said of making the anniversary jump. “It rekindles an awful lot of activities that we get to think about, and I think about them a lot deeper now. Every year it gets deeper and deeper, I remember things I don’t even recall that happened that surrounded me that come forth and almost throw me out of bed.”
For the Saturday, Jan. 25 event, Rice posed for photos with children and adults before heading inside the school’s auditorium, where at least another 10 World War II veterans were seated. Veterans of other wars were also present in the crowd, as was Rice’s wife Brenda. Film posters designed by eighth-grade students taking a graphic design class were posted along the theater’s walls.
“Libertas” covers several subjects centered around the D-Day invasion, including film writer/producer/narrator CJ Machado’s time training to re-enact a World War II parachute jump, Rice and other veterans’ experiences during the war, D-Day’s legacy. The scene showing Rice’s anniversary jump earned applause from the near-filled auditorium.
After the screening, there was a Q&A session with Machado, Rice and Honor Flight chair Julie Brightwell, during which Machado said that she was friends with several World War II veterans, and making the film was her way of thanking them.
When asked why he chose to jump again, Rice said it was because he considers himself a risk-taker. He recounted that one of the most memorable parts of returning to Normandy was being “adopted” by three different French communities — Rice’s ancestry can be traced back to France. He also said that of all his fellow Normandy co-jumpers, only 3% are left and only eight are from California.
When asked what he would do differently about his next jump, he said, “Make sure everything is safe, good and safe. ‘Cause in 10 seconds, you could be dead if you mistreat a parachute, you know?”
Alex Wehrung covers Rancho Santa Fe and theatre-related news in North County. He previously reported for The Daily Nexus in Santa Barbara, CA and the Escondido Times-Advocate in Escondido, CA.