Editor’s note: Columbian Fred Hall submitted the information below in honor of former classmate, decorated veteran, retired colonel and minister Sonny Tucker.
Throughout its history Columbus has produced numerous truly outstanding young men and women who have excelled in fields such as science, medicine, law, sports, government, the military and more. One of the most unsung heroes in recent history is Henry Butler (Sonny) Tucker who graduated from S. D. Lee High School in Columbus in 1955. While in high school, Tucker was a star football and basketball player for the Lee High Generals. After graduation, he accepted an appointment to the U.S. Army Military Academy. After a short stay at the Academy, he decided to return to Mississippi to accept a four-year football scholarship at the University of Southern Mississippi. This is where the making of a true American football and war hero began.
While at USM, Tucker lettered in 1957-58-59 and was a member of the undefeated 1958 UPI Division II national championship team. He was inducted into the University of Southern Mississippi Football Hall of Fame and was honored in October 2000 by the All-American Football Foundation as their recipient of the Bill Wade Unsung Hero Award. During his time at USM, Tucker also met and married the love of his life, Loretta Beths, who was the reigning Miss University of Southern Mississippi. They have one daughter, Tori.
Upon graduation, Tucker was commissioned as a U. S. Army infantry officer and served for more than 20 years. He served three tours as a combat officer in Vietnam during the periods 1964-1966 and 1969-1970. He also served as district senior adviser in Vietnam to the legendary John Paul Vann who was the subject of the Pulitzer Prize bestseller by Neil Sheehan, “A Bright and Shining Lie.”
Eighth of November
Tucker’s outfit, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was the first unit of American troops to engage the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese in a major battle. The enemy was crushed in hand-to-hand combat as the enemy used “human wave” tactics.
Tucker would later recall, “The eighth of November 1965 was the longest day of my life. This was the first major battle of the Vietnam war, and I had the great honor to command. I lost 29 young soldiers that day. I had traveled with these men from Okinawa, and I knew each soldier from the back of their head. That day is etched in my memory more vividly than my mother’s name. It happened on Hill 65.”
During this battle, two of Tucker’s soldiers would be the first of the Vietnam conflict to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for their heroism.
For Tucker’s heroics and command leadership during this battle, he was awarded the Silver Star. Other awards and decorations during his tours in Vietnam included three Bronze Stars, each for bravery and heroics in the face of the enemy, the Meritorious Service Medal and four Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry medals.
The bravery and exploits of Tucker’s rifle company were recorded in song in 2006 in “8th of November,” by the duo Big and Rich. This song was nominated for the 2006 Country Music Awards song of the year; the music video was nominated in video of the year categories at the CMA, Academy of Country Music Awards and Grammy Awards.
Gen. Colin Powell wrote about his admiration, friendship and respect for Tucker in his autobiography, “My American Journey.” In Powell’s second book, “It Worked For Me,” Powell tells why he selected Tucker as his deputy commander.
Although Tucker had always been a devout Christian, his experiences in Vietnam served to deepen his religious beliefs. Upon retirement from the military, he became a full-time minister of pastoral care at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Tucker retired from Bellevue in April 2002 after 17 years of service.
Henry Butler (Sonny) Tucker, who now resides in Germantown, Tennessee, is indeed a great American patriot, military hero, classmate and friend. Columbus is proud to call him one of their own.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.