An American flag next to the grave marker of Staff Sgt. John Rucker, of Linden, Texas, who was among the last Americans killed Jan. 27, 1973, in a rocket attack at Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam, about 11 hours before the cease-fire agreement was to take effect. Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Nugent (Ret.)
Photo Caption & Credits

AFA in Action: AFA Texoma’s Tribute to Staff Sgt. John Rucker, the Last Enlisted Airman Killed in Vietnam

Feb. 16, 2023

The AFA Texoma Region organized a gathering in Linden, Tex., on Feb. 4 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War’s end. Hundreds, mostly Vietnam-era veterans and their families, traveled to Linden for the ceremony which honored their service during the war while specially memorializing one local Airman who made the ultimate sacrifice 50 years ago.

A painting of Staff Sgt. John Rucker. Colin Kimball

Linden is the hometown of the last enlisted American service member killed in action during the war, Staff Sgt. John O’Neal Rucker. Rucker was an aircraft crew chief assigned to the 18th Special Operations Squadron at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base and Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam. On Jan. 27, 1973—just 11 hours before the cease-fire went into effect—Rucker was off-duty and asleep on his cot when his barrack was struck by a rocket. He was 21 years old.

Family and relatives of Staff Sgt. John Rucker pose with his portrait at the unveiling ceremony taking place at the Linden courthouse. (L to r) Roger Manning, brother-in-law; Margie Manning, sister; Marsha Bradford, sister; Travis Bradford, brother-in-law; Rose Dulaney, cousin; Mae Rucker, mother; Vicki O’Neal, niece; Patti Rucker, niece; Tia McConnell, daughter; Dr. Vance Cortez Rucker, cousin; and Sandy Cortez Rucker, cousin-in-law. Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Nugent (Ret.)

Fifty years later, his family and fellow service members still mourn his loss. The gathering in his hometown began with a wreath-laying ceremony at Rucker’s grave in Linden before moving to the Cass County courthouse in downtown Linden, where the AFA Texoma Region unveiled a painting of Rucker that now hangs in the courthouse’s hall. The assembly then listened to speakers and presentations in memory of Rucker, his family, and all who served in Vietnam.

Family members of Staff Sgt. John Rucker hug during the wreath ceremony at a cemetery in Linden, Texas. Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Nugent (Ret.)
CMSgt. Paul Weseloh (Ret.), AFA Texoma Region, salutes after presenting a wreath at the grave of Staff Sgt. John Rucker. Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Nugent (Ret.)
A member from the AC-119 Gunship Association places an organization challenge coin at Staff Sergeant Rucker’s grave. Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Nugent (Ret.)

In addition to several members of the Rucker family, several key delegates from AFA National attended the event, including Chairman of the Board Bernie Skoch, retired CMSAF #14 and former AFA Chairman Gerald Murray, National Chaplain Maj. Gen. Steven Schaik (Ret.), and more. AFA Texoma Region also welcomed elected county officials, members of the AC-119 Gunship Association, and Civil Air Patrol Cadets from local area units.

Artist Colin Kimball, left, applauds as his portrait of Staff Sgt. John Rucker is revealed by Air & Space Forces Association Board of Director (At Large) Lt. Col. Paul Hendricks (Ret.) at a ceremony at the courthouse in Linden, Texas. Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Nugent (Ret.)
Tia McConnell, Staff Sgt. Rucker’s daughter, tells her story to the audience during a ceremony at the courthouse. Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Nugent (Ret.)

“Our nation owes a debt to Staff Sgt. Rucker and to his family, as well as to every Vietnam veteran. It is gratifying to see a community come together in such a dignified ceremony to honor them all,” Skoch said. “AFA is proud to have partnered with the AC-119 Gunship Association, Cass County, and the City of Linden, Tex., to honor an American who risked, and lost, his life in service to his country.”

Tia McConnell, left, former AFA Chairman of the Board Gerald Murray, and current AFA Chairman of the Board Bernie Skoch, place a wreath at the Linden Veterans Memorial. Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Nugent (Ret.)

The event also marked 50 years since the surviving veterans of the war returned home to face national disrespect, resentment, and hostility rather than a hero’s welcome. By sharing stories like Rucker’s and by commemorating Vietnam-era service members at events like the one in Linden, AFA’s Texoma Region and its partners have moved the needle in showing all veterans the gratitude they deserve.

Veterans render a salute after a wreath was laid at the Linden, Texas, Veterans Memorial commemorating Staff Sgt. John Rucker on the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Nugent (Ret.)

“Today, and in following events and activities throughout this year, AFA wants to ensure all Americans are aware and pay proper respect for those who served in Vietnam,” Murray said in his speech at the ceremony. “We honor all veterans of the Vietnam War era, especially those who were held as prisoners of war, listed as missing in action, and gave their lives in service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States.”