A "Rich" Life – Flirting with Death
By his own reckoning, WWII veteran James “Troy” Rich “nearly died 15 times – more lives than a cat.” He “was always a bit of a daredevil”, but not all of his close encounters with death were due to his risk-taking. He was born on November 8, 1926 near McAdoo, Texas to Ezra and Ada Rich. His father, a farmer, was a veteran of WWI who, among other responsibilities, shoed horses for the Army in Bulgaria. Troy's brother also served during WWII as an airplane mechanic in the Army Air Corps.
Troy graduated from McAdoo High School in 1944 and was drafted into the Army on March 26, 1945. After completing eight weeks of basic training at Camp Walters near Mineral Wells, Texas, his unit was ordered to ship out for overseas deployment. After undergoing a series of immunizations, Troy “came down with a 107-degree fever and nearly died.” The deployment proceeded without the young soldier, and “many men in my unit were either killed or wounded, and I would have been one of them.” The 11th Airborne suffered 2,431 casualties during WWII. America had lost many of her young men, but V-J Day on Aug. 14, 1945 brought welcome relief. Troy said that he “jumped up and down and shouted for joy when he heard the bombs were dropped on Japan.” The war was finally over.
Leaving from Oakland, California, Troy and his outfit sailed for Japan. General Douglas MacArthur had picked the 11th Airborne to lead the invasion of Japan, but after the Japanese surrender, he used them instead to lead American forces who would occupy Japan. The adventurous young man was “only making $50 month, but if you could qualify as a paratrooper, you could earn $100.” The physical training was quite intense, and Troy remembered that “we had to do double-time (running) all the time. Even if we stopped, we had to walk in place.” After five jumps, Troy earned his parachute badge and the much needed extra $50-per-month pay. On one jump, he landed on top of another paratrooper’s canopy and “had to slide off and move away from the other jumper, or they both might have plunged to their death.” On another jump, a wind shear hit him about 100 feet from the ground, and even though he tried to correct his landing, he “landed hard on a big mound of dirt and bent my tailbone under.” Instead of being taken to sick bay, he was just picked up by the other men. "I should have been drawing disability, but the accident was not in my records.” He has suffered from a bad back for the rest of his life.
Rich was a jack-of-all-trades. He also drove a 2-1/2 ton 6X6 truck as part of the 408th Airborne Quartermaster Company. Part of Troy’s job was moving equipment around. Once, a former Kamikaze pilot was working with him. He told Troy that he “was forced to do it, and that the pilots were given opium before the flight. If you did not do as ordered, your family would be disgraced and shunned.” Fortunately, the war ended, and the young Japanese pilot did not have to fly the suicide mission. Troy also became a qualified glider pilot before his tour in Japan ended in the fall of 1946. After a long train ride from California, he was discharged at Ft. Sam Houston near San Antonio on December 7, 1946. Back home in McAdoo, he used his savings "to buy a Ford coupe and a Ford tractor. I was ready to be a farmer.”
Troy met his future wife, Libby, literally by accident. He and a date were heading home from a movie in Spur when they “came upon a car that had hit a steer. It was a family of a dad, a mom and a young girl. I could barely squeeze them in my car. The young girl, Libby, sat close beside me, and we got to know each other pretty well.” After only three weeks of dating, Troy and Libby married. They raised three daughters and a son. The Rich’s were married for 62 years before Libby’s death in February of 2010.
Even in his later life, Troy continued to be a daredevil. On a trip to the Royal Gorge, he got too close taking a picture and “had to crawl on my hands and knees to keep from falling into the gorge!” Once, a vehicle he had jacked up on blocks slid on top of him and pinned him to the ground. “Fortunately, I was on my back with my arms up and was able to slide myself out from under the tractor, but it tore all the hide off my back.”
Now 92 years old, the adventurous Mr. Rich can look back and be thankful he survived so many close calls during his long life. His many brushes with death have only served to enhance his appreciation for life.
Respectfully submitted by
Larry A. Williams
Veterans Liaison Co-Chair
Texas South Plains Honor Flight
(Troy went on the 2013 Honor Flight with his Navy veteran granddaughter Tina Hall as his guardian. He particularly enjoyed seeing the famed Enola Gay at the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum. He passed away on April 23, 2019.)