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On January 27, 1973, 11 hours before the cease fire took effect, Sergeant John “O’Neal” Rucker became the last American who died at DaNang during the Vietnam War, and that war’s last enlisted casualty. O’Neal was assigned to aircraft maintenance for the 18th Special Operations Squadron’s Stinger aircraft. Several of his friends and crewmates told his parents that they’d had rocket attacks a week earlier and that this one occurred when O’Neal was off-duty, sleeping in the barracks. O’Neal was initially assigned to NKP, Thailand in April, 1972. In July he went TDY to DaNang with the 18th SOS, and was PCS’d to DaNang two days before the fatal rocket attack. O’Neal was scheduled to return to Thailand before coming home; his death occurred little more than 24 hours before the Vietnam Cease Fire Agreement was to go into effect. O’Neal was 21 years old.
Linden, Texas, where O’Neal grew up, is a small town of several thousand with traditional values – patriotic, family and friends as cornerstones of life, obedience, being an individual, and foremost of all, belief in God and country. On November 11, 1973 the people of Linden erected and dedicated a monument in the courthouse square in memory of Sgt. John O’Neal Rucker. Paul Rowan, a local news writer interviewed dozens of Linden’s folks shortly after O’Neal died in Vietnam, and wrote an article for the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram. Paul said, “Sgt Rucker will be worth remembering because he died in the service of his country and with a firm trust in God. In Linden, a man can make no higher marks in history.”
Shortly after the cease fire took effect, the Department of the Air Force and the Republic of Vietnam joined together to erect and dedicate a memorial at DaNang Air Base. On March 3rd, 1973, they dedicated the DaNang Air Base Airman Memorial Park to all United States warriors who gave lives for freedom. It also included a Memorial marker placed near the rocket attack site where Sergeant John O’Neal Rucker, 18th SOS Maintenance, became one of our last Air Force casualties of the Vietnam War and the last American enlisted man to die by hostile fire at DaNang Air Base. Almost none of us were aware of this park or memorial. Our History Book and this page remedy that. John (O’Neal) Rucker and all our brothers lost in South East Asia are not forgotten.
DaNang Air Base Airman Memorial Park Proclamation
Colonel William Hoover, DaNang’s Commander, sent this letter to O’Neal’s parents:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Rucker,
Today is the 34th day into the cease fire agreement and phase down of United States Air Force activities in the Republic of Vietnam. The particular significance of this day is the fact that at 9:30 this morning, a group of USAF and Vietnamese personnel paused to dedicate the DaNang Air Base Memorial Park.
This dedication, attended by approximately 400 people, while recognizing the overall contributions of all Air Force personnel here at DaNang and those who died in the cause of freedom, gave special recognition to your son, Sgt John Rucker.
The Park contains an engraved marble plaque in his honor; and I want to assure you that his memory and supreme sacrifice will not be forgotten. The attached Memorial Brochure will help you better sense the spirit of today’s activity. I was extremely proud to have your son under my command.
WILLIAM W. HOOVER, Colonel, USAF Commander
The following is transcribed from the Memorial Park Dedication Pamphlet:
Many persons, throughout time and the world, and for various reasons, have ingrained their beneficial presence in history. It is not through chance that they have done so, but through their deeds and upon their own merit. In such a mold fit those individuals who have served the cause of peace and freedom at DaNang Airfield. Faced with the hardships inherent to armed conflict; they rallied as one, despite their diversity of background and nationality, to successfully accomplish their appointed mission.
Mere words could not be authored nor monuments carved to successfully convey the full remembrance and appreciation of their valorous acts, many of which led to the ultimate sacrifice. Such recognition can only be felt in the hearts of men or laid in the hands of supreme beings. We who are present now, however, in order to best preserve in a worldly manner the memory of those who have served here have taken action to establish this plot of earth as a dedication to their memory, to be known as the “DaNang Air Base Airman Memorial Park”.
Accordingly, it is hereby declared and proclaimed that this park and its attendant marker shall for all time be devoted to the recognition of those who have so unselfishly and honorably given of themselves while in service at DaNang Airfield, to be remembered by fitting ceremony at appropriate times in the years to come lest the memory be dimmed by time. Within our authority, witness our hands and seals this 3rd day of March 1973, DaNang Airfield, Republic of Vietnam.
COLONEL WILLIAM W. HOOVER
NGUYEN DUC KHANH
FREEDOM HAS A PRICE
This memorial park is dedicated to the memory of all Americans who served here, and consecrated to the valorous men who gave-their lives in the defense of freedom. For them, the price has been the supreme one which any nation can ask of its people. Especially do we wish to recognize one American, who will represent for us the thousands of Americans who will never return – – Sgt John Rucker – – who lost his life here at DaNang on 27 January 1973. His death, on the eve of peace, was a tragic ending to a long and costly war. Costly in terms of those slain, the homeless, orphaned, and the widowed. For those of us who have survived, and for whom the price of freedom will not be measured in terms of supreme sacrifices, we offer a prayer of thanks to God, adding a profound hope that this peace will continue.
This memorial park has been created in order to serve as a symbol of freedom and peace amid the ravages of war. And especially, it will serve as a reminder to us that the price of freedom demands vigilance and a personal commitment to the ideals of freedom. We who served faithfully in defense of those ideals here at DaNang, and throughout Southeast Asia, can be justly proud, knowing that those who have died did not do so in vain.
CAPTAIN KENNETH F SMITH
Editor’s Note: The DaNang Memorial no longer stands, nor the plaque honoring Sergeant Rucker. The Monument dedicated and placed in the courthouse square of Linden Texas still stands, in memory of Sgt. John O’Neal Rucker. God bless our small towns.