School honors teacher, veteran

Earlier this year World War II veteran and former Hilltop High School teacher Thomas Rice (center) was honored during halftime of a football game. The 98 year old on Thursday had the school library named in his honor, just ahead of the Veterans Day holiday.

On Thursday, Hilltop High School faculty, students and alumni surprised former teacher and coach and WWII veteran Thomas Rice at an event to dedicate the library building to him and honor his legacy, officially naming the library Thomas Rice Library.

The 98-year-old veteran taught U.S. Government and coached track at HTHS from September 1959 to June 1983. He also taught at Chula Vista High School for nine years, prior to teaching at HTHS.

Rice was the kind of teacher who held students accountable and had a huge impact on people’s lives, according to Principal Karen Hernandez.

His former students, Kathy Cappos Hardy and Sullen Olsen Butler, who graduated from HTHS more than 35 years ago, showcase Rice’s lasting impact — they initiated the process to have the library named in his honor in August and put together a committee to make it happen.

Before going into education, Rice served in the Army Air Force as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. He was the first in his squadron to jump out of his aircraft on D-Day, a moment he recently reenacted in a parachute drop over Carentan, France as part of D-Day commemorations for the 75th anniversary in June.

He plans to jump again on his 101st birthday — a tribute to all of those who served in the 101st Airborne Division. Rice has won many prestigious awards including the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the Good Conduct Medal and the French Legion of Honor.

HTHS Athletic Director Nancy Acerrio said Rice truly brought history to life in the classroom and naming the library to honor him will help students remember all of the sacrifices Rice made for his country.

“We just don’t want our younger generations to forget what was done for them,” Acerrio said. “This is a person they could actually see, that gave up a lot for their country so that they can live how they live today.”

Assistant Principal Mark Carpizo said that by honoring Rice in this way, the library will have a human connection that students are likely to ask about, ensuring that his legacy at HTHS continues to live on.