When I first stumbled across the name of Preston Rice, it was on a Thursday afternoon at the office of the Easley Progress.
I was scrolling through the microfilm in search of the July 20th 1944 edition, and on the front page, I found his name listed amongst several other local boys killed in action during World War II.
I was preparing another installment of “Through the Years”, a segment where I, as a staff writer, look through the old rolls of microfilm and pull excerpts from those past editions to create a literary retrospective for each Friday’s paper.
Why 1944? No particular reasoning at all. In fact, I usually petition my co-workers for suggestions on the chosen year.
That Thursday in July was much like any other Thursday, and as I sat at my desk, I listened to the ladies in the ad department call out their suggestions“1974”, “1987”, “1923”, and finally, “1944”.
We settled on that year.
And from there, I began to sift through the rolls of microfilm until I found the year and appropriate date, positioned the spools in place, and began searching.
And there it was.
“The Progress reported that Mr. and Mrs. L.C. Rice of Easley were notified by the War Department that their son, Pvt. Preston E. Rice, was killed in action in France after participating in the Normandy Invasion.”
I included this exact phrase in the Friday, July 20th edition of “Through the Years”, it was published, and that was the end of it, or so I thought.
A month later, following the death of my grandfather, a man who served in the United States Navy during the Second World War, I wrote a column commemorating the World War II generation and referenced the segment of “Through the Years” that included Preston’s name.
The column was published, and that was the end of it, or so I thought.
A few days ago, I received a phone call from Tommie Rice, the 93-year-old sister of Preston, still alive, still in Easley, and forever filled with pride for her brother.
Tommie, a lifelong resident of Easley, talked about her brother’s graduation from Easley High School, his love of sports, his love for the American people, and his love for his country.
She told me that he wanted to go fight for his country and that he loved the people of America and was willing to give his life for them, which is precisely what he did.
Preston was killed on the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion and was buried in France.
And now, nearly seven decades since his death, his name has been resurrected once again to the public consciousness and has been forever committed to posterity at the World War II memorial behind the courthouse in Pickens where it will rest forever amongst the other proud sons of Pickens County.
But who he was, his voice, and his character have never died and have remained anchored within the memory of his sister and in the memories of those knew him before his sacrifice 68 years ago.
“In our youths, our hearts were touched with fire.”
-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.