Reuben Henry Tucker III
|Reuben Henry Tucker III|
Reuben Henry Tucker III, pictured here as a colonel.
January 29, 1911|
|Died||January 6, 1970
Charleston, South Carolina
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1935-1963|
|Commands held||504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (United States) 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Distinguished Service Cross (2)
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit (2)
Combat Infantryman Badge
Presidential Unit Citation
Military William Order
|Other work||Commandant of Cadets, The Citadel|
Major General Reuben Henry Tucker III (b. Ansonia, Connecticut, on January 29, 1911 - d. Charleston, South Carolina on 6 January 1970) was a senior officer of the United States Army. He served with great distinction during World War II, where he commanded the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the excellent 82nd Airborne Division, and was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses. He was also one of the youngest regimental commanders of the war.
Tucker was active in sports and Boy Scouts in his youth, proving his bravery and resourcefulness at 13, pulling his drowning younger brother and a friend from a freezing mill pond. For this, he received a local award for heroism from the Scouts. While the boys in his high school social fraternity would nickname him "Duke" for his good looks and fastidious dress, and his family would call him "Tommy", he would be known by many as simply "Rube".
Not renowned in his career for diligence with paperwork, his path to West Point was not quite direct. The Tucker family had produced soldiers for all of America's wars since the Revolution, seemingly working in Ansonia's brass mill to pass the time between wars. Tucker himself spent a year in the mill before entering a West Point prep school, Millard's. Despite passing the entrance exam, he did not secure an appointment in 1929 and spent a year out in Wyoming before joining the Class of 1934.
Due to a failing grade in mathematics, he washed out of West Point. Fortunately, his determination to remain at West Point helped him in passing two days of exams for re-admission, which allowed him to be "turned back" and join the Class of 1935. Tucker married on the day following graduation. He and his wife would raise five boys over the ensuing decades.
World War II
Tucker volunteered for parachute training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Upon graduation Captain Tucker was assigned to the 504th Parachute Infantry Battalion. Following activation of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, on 1 May 1942, Major Tucker was assigned as the Executive Officer. On 6 December 1942, Major General Matthew B. Ridgway, Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division, selected Lieutenant Colonel Tucker to command the 504th. At 31 years of age, Tucker was one of the youngest regimental commanders during the war, despite his delay in entering and graduating from West Point.
On 11 July 1943, Colonel Tucker led his troops in the parachute invasion of Sicily. There the United States ground and sea forces, mistaking the 504's aircraft for enemy planes, fired on the formations resulting in the catastrophic loss of 23 aircraft, numerous casualties, and the scattering of troops all over the island. Tucker also led the 504th PIR at Anzio, at Nijmegen during Operation Market-Garden, and during the Battle of the Bulge. Due to the number of casualties sustained during the fighting in Italy Tucker and the rest of the 504th did not participate in the Normandy Invasion.
Colonel Tucker was an outstanding combat leader during the war, and had a marked and lasting influence on many members of the regiment through his sterling traits of character, leadership ability, unfailing sense of humor, and understanding. He was affectionately referred to as "The Little Colonel" by the troops, and his presence among them often inspired their will to fight under adverse conditions. While fighting on the Anzio beachhead they became known as the "Devils in Baggy Pants". The nickname remains with the regiment today.
Lt Gen James M. Gavin, who originally commanded the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and later the Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division, stated in his book, "On to Berlin", "The 504th was commanded by a tough, superb combat leader, Colonel Reuben H. Tucker was probably the best regimental commander of the war." Interestingly, Gavin would admit that Tucker
was famous for screwing up everything that had to do with administration. One story going around was that when Tucker left Italy, he had an orange crate full of official charges against his soldiers and he just threw the whole crate into the ocean. Ridgway and I talked about it and we decided we just couldn't promote Tucker. (from 9/28/82 interview of Gavin by Clay Blair)
Following the war, Colonel Tucker held many varied positions and assignments to include Commander, 1st Cadet Regiment, West Point; Staff and Faculty, Air War College; Student, Army War College; Commandant of Cadets, the Citadel; Assistant Division Commander, 101st Airborne Division and Chief Infantry Officers Branch, Department of the Army. Subsequent assignments were Commanding General of Fort Dix; Chief Military Assistance Advisory Group in Laos, and Assistant Chief of Staff G-3, United States Army, Pacific.
Major General Tucker retired from the Army in 1963, settling in Charleston, South Carolina, to assume a position he previously held on active duty, Commandant of Cadets at the Citadel where he remained until retiring a second time in February 1968.
On 6 January 1970, Major General Tucker was found collapsed on the Citadel campus, the victim of an apparent heart attack. Funeral services were held in Beaufort, South Carolina, on 9 January 1970. Major General Tucker's final resting place in Beaufort National Cemetery is located in close proximity to the graveside of his oldest son, who was killed in action in Vietnam.
Awards and decorations
Colonel Tucker was one of the most decorated officers in the United States Army. He was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses, the United States' second highest medal for bravery, one of which was personally awarded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during a visit to Castelvetrano, Sicily, in December 1943, for extraordinary heroism under hostile fire in Italy in September.
- Two Distinguished Service Crosses
- Silver Star
- Legion of Merit, twice
- Bronze Star
- Commendation Ribbon
- Purple Heart
- Combat Infantryman's Badge
- Knight of the Military William Order (Netherlands, 22 February 1946)