Norman Rice stops in the Andover Walgreens about once a week. He often sits as the register and talks about fighting in World War II.
That’s how he met Lori Kuhlman, a Walgreens associate, who came to know Rice through his stories. During one of these conversations Lori found out Rice was coming up on his 90th birthday.
Kuhlman called the American Legion of Andover. That led to several veterans coming out to the Andover Senior Center to surprise Rice on his birthday, and thank him for his service.
Rice’s birthday is Dec. 8 – one day after the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
He was listening to the radio on a car ride on Dec. 7, 1941. When Rice heard the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, he knew he would be drafted.
Though he missed the first round of selections at the age of 19, he was drafted into the United States Army Air Corps at 20.
His first deployment was Pearl Harbor. From there, Rice was sent to the Mariana Island of Saipan. Saipan was a strategic point where the United States B29s could reach the Japanese Islands without refueling. This was key, and Rice’s role would play important part in the war’s history.
“I helped load the atomic bomb,” Rice said.
Today, Rice lives in Andover and is one of about two million surviving World War II veterans, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Rice’s outgoing personality and willingness to share his stories tend to draw people around him at the Senior Center.
He grew up on a farm near Great Bend, and said his family was poor.
“We had no electricity, no running water - we had nothing,” Rice said.
When he came home after the war, the farm was not there anymore. He became a contractor building and selling houses. He relocated to Wichita years later.
His stories are forever linked with history, but these stories are Norman’s way of inviting you into his life.
On his birthday, right before the veterans left, Norman asked them to gather around. He pulled some Japanese money out of his billfold that had kept for 68 years and began to tell a story.
Davalyne Wilson, director for the Andover Senior Center, said that Rice is there every for lunch every day, Monday through Friday.