There’s No Place Like Home
by Priscilla Rall
Marion William Rice was born to Marian Warfield and Ethel Metheny Rice in 1927 in Mountaindale. One of five children, the family lived in a house next to a small grocery store that Marion’s parents ran. When he was six years old, he walked three miles to the closest school in Lewistown. Later, he moved to live with his grandmother, Mrs. John Kesselring, to be closer to the Thurmont schools. She lived in Thurmont on Frederick Road, just above Camp Cozy.
His parents had a large garden and raised hogs. Marion, or “Bill” as he was called, missed school when they butchered. His job was to keep the fires going under the butchering kettles. Bill’s favorite meal was hog maw, which his mother would make at butchering time. At his grandmother’s, Bill’s job was to feed the chickens. He fondly remembered playing baseball in the summertime. Bill vividly recalled when he was playing ball in Mountaindale; a man came running out of the store, yelling that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. He responded, “Where’s Pearl?” Once a year, the family would go to Frederick to buy new clothes for school. That was a special day!
His family listened to the radio every night. Bill especially remembered Lowell Thomas and President Roosevelt’s (FDR) fireside chats. In fact, he saw FDR several times when he would drive up Frederick Road, sometimes in an open car. Often, he would stop to fish at the old ore pit at Catoctin Furnace, which was stocked with trout just for the president.
Bill worked part-time for the local florist, Allen Creager, collecting ferns growing in the mountains for funeral wreaths. Once, he looked up and saw two men with guns drawn running towards him. Bill had strayed too close to Camp Shangri-La. He was taken in a police car to the post office to be identified before being released. That was an exciting day!
Bill graduated from Thurmont High School in 1944 at 17 years of age, and he decided to join the U.S. Navy. “Mom was ironing and a’crying and a’crying.” She didn’t want her son to sign up, nor did his father, but eventually, they signed his papers. Bill remembered that the older men, the “Home Guard,” would march and do practice drills using broomsticks.
Before he joined the Navy, Bill was an air raid warden. They had a station on Payne’s Hill. Once, Bill had to stop Doc Birely because he was driving with his car lights on during a blackout. But the old Doc protested that he was rushing to see an ill patient.
Bill took the bus to Baltimore and then the train to Bainbridge for training. He spent several months in specialized training in electrical work. With his training done, Bill took the train cross-country, arriving after five days in San Francisco. There, he boarded a ship that sailed to Pearl Harbor, where one could still see remains of the Japanese surprise attack. It was “pretty emotional” for the young sailor. Then, he was quickly shuffled onto an airplane but was not told his destination.
The plane landed on different islands, and Bill finally ended up on Okinawa. Climbing down from the plane, he was given the order, “Go up on that hill and find an empty tent with a cot.” Bill stayed there for a month or so. He could explore where airplanes had crashed and exploded. Then, a tremendous typhoon came through the island, with 180 mph winds. Bill, and a few others, found refuge in a burial cave. When it was over, they crawled out; there were wrecked planes everywhere. He was assigned to the hospitals to set up electrical generators and to keep them going. Once, a gas drum exploded in his face, and he thought he was permanently blinded. Fortunately, he recovered. There were a lot of Japanese POWs who were helping repair the damage that they had done to the island.
Finally, the war ended, and Bill was granted a 10-day furlough to Shanghai, China. He bought a few souvenirs, including two kimonos for his sisters. He returned to Okinawa and continued doing electrical work until 1946 when he returned to the U.S. and was mustered out of the service.
Back in Thurmont, Bill began working for the town for a total of 44 years! Marion “Bill” Rice had a life that spanned almost a century and saw tremendous changes in the world. Bill never hesitated to serve his country when the time came. He was one of our “Greatest Generation,” a home-town boy turned sailor who saw the world but decided that the best place is home.
If you are a veteran or know a veteran who is willing to tell his or her story, contact the Frederick County Veterans History Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill and Nancy Rice.