World War II still on veteran's mind
The (Owensboro, Ky.) Messenger-Inquirer
Robert Rice has had a lot of birthdays and probably doesn't remember what he was doing on each one, but he readily remembers his 19th birthday spent in a foxhole near St. Lo, France. It was June 25, 1944.
Nineteen days earlier, he and hundreds of U.S. soldiers were storming Omaha Beach at Normandy. He has vivid memories of that day, as well — June 6, 1944.
"It was a long time ago," Rice said Wednesday while sitting on his sofa at his home in Fordsville. He said sometimes without warning, memories of D-Day surface. His wife, Jean, said that when he returned from World War II, he had restless nights.
Rice, 88, worked with his dad in Knottsville until he was 17 years old. "He was a sharecropper," Rice said.
He was 18 years old when he got his letter from Uncle Sam. He said he hadn't thought much about being drafted. That was reality in those days. Boys were sent to war straight from high school.
Rice earned enough medals during his two years in the Army to fill a shadow box that hangs on the couple's living room wall.
Among his awards are a Silver Star and a Purple Heart. The Silver Star is awarded for gallantry displayed while in action against an enemy during military operations.
Rice served with the 16th Infantry 1st Division. On the morning of D-Day, Rice and 450 men went ashore under fire from hundreds of enemy soldiers. Rice was one of the last to leave the boat, which may have prevented him from losing his life.
Rice was assigned a large pair of wire cutters that were used to cut cable and other wires. While going ashore, the tool got caught on a cable and he couldn't move forward. After freeing the wire cutter, he dropped it into the waist-deep water. He made his way to the beach where men he had just stood beside on the boat were dead or dying.
"The Man Above and my mother's prayers brought me home," Rice said.
The 88-year-old great-great-grandfather said he doesn't remember thinking much while waiting to move on to the beach. He said he just reacted to the situation. But when it was over, he said he became "scared and shaky."
In addition to bad memories of his time in the service, Rice has a piece of shrapnel in his right shoulder from a shootout with German tanks. He and several fellow soldiers, armed with bazookas, fired on the armored vehicles. He said he took out at least one himself.
The shrapnel affects movement of his shoulder. It's been deemed inoperable, and he has a 10 percent disability compensation from the Veterans Administration.
"I wish people would take more interest in veterans," Rice said. "It takes too long for them to get the benefits they earned.
"I thanked God when the war was over. I feel sorry for the ones at war now because they're not going to win," he said.
Jean and Robert have been married more than 67 years. She was 15 years old when they got married shortly after he came home from the war.
"I'd come by her house, and she'd peek out the window at me," he said with a grin.
"We've had some rough spots, but most has been good," Jean Rice said.