Rock Hill Pearl Harbor survivor buried with military honors

Herald columnistFebruary 15, 2013 

There was a combat burial in Rock Hill Friday afternoon for a man who did not die in combat. That’s only because L.C. Rice survived three wars, all in combat, and willed himself to live.

Rice survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941, and three full wars after that, in combat in the Navy and the Army. His body had five tattoos from exotic places – and twice as many scars from wars in those places.

Lloyd Claude Rice died this week at 89. Wars could not kill him. Bullets in his chest and shrapnel in his shoulders. Sunken ships and bombs and mines and cold and heat could not kill him.

Only old age and cancer could take Rice – and he fought that, too.

The only way to honor Rock Hill’s last native son to have survived Pearl Harbor was to have a most perfect military funeral.

There was no preacher. No preacher could talk of the killing, the sacrifice, the death, endured by Sgt. L.C. Rice.

This toughest soldier anybody ever saw was eulogized by a nephew, Doug Rollins, who talked plainly of how Rice saved an entire platoon in Korea that had no bullets, no food for three days and no hope.

Rollins spoke of Rice’s heroics at Pearl Harbor, in Pacific battles afterward, then battles off the coast of France and in France during World War II.

Rice was wounded when his Navy ship was sunk, yet he fought in the Allied invasion of France while wounded. He endured the atomic bomb testing after the war.

Rice fought two Army combat tours in Korea as a sergeant leading men in the worst conditions in war’s history, and in Vietnam when killing was the only way to stay alive.

He trained thousands of men as a platoon drill sergeant. Those men came home from wars and became fathers and grandfathers because of the training they got from Rice.

Rice retired after 32 years in the military with a body covered with the scars of wars that could not kill him.

“There are not words to describe this great American,” his nephew said.

He was right.

Rice lay in his casket, dressed in the U.S. Army uniform he wore in Korea. It still fit.

Actions were the only way to honor Rice on Friday. Those actions came from hundreds.

A procession of veterans led a huge throng from the funeral home to Grandview Memorial Park. A Vietnam combat veteran who helped Rice organize the Rock Hill VFW Post 2889 Honor Guard, Ken Hood, led that honor guard into the cemetery.

There was a drummer and flags and uniforms with shining brass and boots that gleamed with polish.

Hood strode forth, his old shoulders strong.

The line moved toward the grave, where young soldiers from Fort Jackson’s Honor Guard handled the casket and folded the flag. When he was saving people at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and in combat afterward, Rice was younger than all of those young soldiers there Friday.

Several hundred people – veterans and not, military connections and not – circled the grave site. They heard of the combat record, the service to country, the saving of children in wars. Many openly wept.

The flag atop the casket was folded improperly the first time, so a Sgt. First Class Rodney Jones – a leader of fighting men just like Sgt. L.C. Rice – made the young soldiers do it over.

The funeral for this hero demanded perfection.

More young soldiers fired a 21-gun salute. Another played “Taps” on a bugle.

In the years after his wars, Rice himself did all those jobs at hundreds of military funerals during a quarter-century of VFW and American Legion service. He was a stickler for detail. His brass was always the shiniest. His boots the glossiest. His folded flags the most perfect.

In the middle of the grass stood Rice’s rifle, the bayonet stuck in the ground. His combat boots were next to the rifle. His combat helmet hung on top of the rifle.

This was a combat funeral for combat that could not kill the toughest soldier of them all.

A flag that had been flying just days ago over the U.S. Capitol was presented.

Dewitt Hull spoke to those who came to show their respects to his uncle:

“Thanks to all those who served and are serving, and let’s bring ’em all home soon so that we all might live in peace.”

That was L.C. Rice’s legacy. He spent three decades fighting wars. He hated wars. He killed hundreds, maybe thousands of people in wars. He saved uncountable numbers of men shot and stabbed and bombed and gashed.

He watched countless men die; many in his arms.

In the last days of his life, Rice said he wished he could live to see wars end forever.

Ken Hood, that Vietnam veteran nicknamed “Blister,” said at the end of the burial service that Friday was a fitting end to L.C. Rice’s life

“To be here today is an honor,” Hood said. “A great honor.”

When it was over, many in the huge crowd went to the VFW, because L.C. Rice wanted no mourning. He wanted a party.

The barstool where he had a thousand beers and bought 10,000 beers for others – his barstool – sat empty, an American flag tucked onto it.

Just like Rice wanted.

And at that party, tears were cried. Drinks were raised. Toasts were made.

And that first round, gulped by hundreds, was paid for. The tab was written into Rice’s last requests.

“He made me promise,” said Hull, the nephew.

L.C. Rice bought the entire house that round of drinks, and they toasted him with it.

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Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

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