Vietnam casualty to be honored

Published 12:21 am Thursday, May 22, 2008

FAYETTE — On May 24, 1968, Lt. Col. Emmett Rucker Jr. was flying an aircraft fitted with a 1,000 gallon tank and spray bars on a defoliation mission in Vietnam.

That day, he took enemy fire, and one of the wings on his plane exploded. As the plane was going down, Rucker was able to wrangle it to a high enough altitude to enable him to bail out.

The plane continued its downward descent, and crashed nose-first into the South China Sea.

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Rucker has not been seen since.

This Saturday, on the 40th anniversary of Rucker’s disappearance he will be honored with a military memorial service in Fayette.

The veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam is still officially listed as being “missing in action.”

Rucker’s son, Claude Rucker, said he waited to do the service until after his mother’s death, because she did not want to have the memorial service during her lifetime.

What makes Saturday’s service unique is that it is the first memorial service for a serviceman listed as “missing in action” in Mississippi, Keesler Air Force Base Staff Sgt. David Warren said.

“We have done an active duty funeral before, but this is our first MIA one,” Warren said. “It’s essentially the same service.”

During the service, a 20-person Air Force honor guard will march into the Fayette Cemetery with an American flag pre-folded, Warren said.

When the honor guard reaches the plaque set in the ground in honor of Rucker, the guard will unfold it over the marker.

An Air Force chaplain will say a few words, as well as a local preacher, the flag will be re-folded and a 21-gun salute and “Taps” will follow.

At 1:30 p.m., the Air Force will do a flyover in a C-130 aircraft.

Claude Rucker said he had originally asked for a B-52 to do the fly over, but current regulations don’t allow for it.

“I’ll take what I can get at this point,” Rucker said.

The memorial service will begin at 11 a.m. at the Fayette cemetery.