Reuben Henry Tucker III
|Reuben Henry Tucker III|
|Born||29 January 1911
Ansonia, Connecticut, United States
|Died||6 January 1970 (aged 58)
Charleston, South Carolina, United States
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1935–1963|
|Commands held||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 (January 29, 1911 – 6 January 1970) was a highly decorated senior United States Army officer. He served with distinction during World War II, where he commanded the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (504th PIR), leading it in action in Sicily, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Germany, from 1942–1945. He was one of the youngest regimental commanders of the war.
Charleston (in what was then the Province of Carolina), where he was to die, had been settled from Bermuda under William Sayle in 1670, and many Bermudian families long remained prominent there, Notable among these was the Atlantic archipelago's Tucker family, which included Thomas Tudor Tucker and several notable Henry Tuckers. Reuben Henry Tucker III's paternal line, however, actually traces back to Robert Tucker, born in 1604 in Gravesend, Kent, England, who died in Milton, Norfolk, Massachusetts in 1682.
Reuben Henry Tucker III was born in 1911 to Reuben Henry Tucker, Jr. and his wife, Clare (born Booth). He 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 the paratroopers, part of the U.S. Army's newly created airborne forces, at Fort Benning, Georgia. Upon graduation Tucker, now a captain, was assigned to the 504th Parachute Infantry Battalion. Following activation of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), on 1 May 1942, Tucker, now a major, was assigned as the executive officer (XO). The 504th was later assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, under Major General Matthew Ridgway. On 6 December 1942, Ridgway selected Tucker to command the 504th. The other two regiments of the 325th and 326th Glider Infantry, along with supporting units. The 326th was later replaced by the 505th PIR. 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, Tucker, who was by now a full colonel, led his troops in the Allied invasion of Sicily. There the American ground and sea forces, mistaking the 504th'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 during the Italian Campaign at Salerno and 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 Allied invasion of Normandy, instead remaining in England.
Colonel Tucker was an outstanding combat leader during the war, and had a marked and lasting influence on many members of the 504th PIR 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.
Colonel James M. Gavin, who originally commanded the 505th PIR, and later commanded 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 U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt during a visit to Castelvetrano, Sicily, in December 1943, for extraordinary heroism under hostile fire in Italy in September.
- Distinguished Service Cross, twice
- Silver Star
- Legion of Merit, twice
- Bronze Star
- Commendation Medal
- Purple Heart
- Combat Infantryman Badge
- Knight of the Military William Order (Netherlands, 22 February 1946)