One of the nation's first black paratroopers, retired 1st Sgt. Manuel Rucker, has died.
First Sgt. Rucker, an active member of the Samuel Council Chapter of the 555th Parachute Infantry Association, spent much of his later years talking to students about his former unit and the discrimination it faced in a still-segregated Army.
First Sgt. Rucker died Wednesday, according to Wiseman Mortuary, which is handling the services.
The 85-year-old veteran of the famed "Triple Nickels" would answer questions and pose for photographs on his school visits. The reception was in stark juxtaposition to the treatment he faced earlier in his career.
"It is important for them to know that nobody wanted the Triple Nickels," he said during a speaking engagement at an elementary school in 2013. "We had to prove everything. There were some who didn't think we could do anything, especially jump out of an airplane. But, that was proven to be a lie.
"We came from different parts of the country and we were not allowed to vote, but we still defended our flag," he said.
First Sgt. Rucker joined the Army in 1950, two years after President Harry S. Truman ordered the integration of the armed forces following World War II.
Despite that, he found an Army that was still very much separated.
"Back in the old days, when your orders were cut, they had your name, and if you were black, the words, 'Negro enlisted,' after it," he said, according to the Fort Jackson Leader. "After we integrated, they stopped putting those words on orders, but instead used a code to describe who you were -- 'one' for white and 'two' for black. The first sergeant at each company would have a roster of everybody with the codes. They weren't supposed to know our color, but they knew."
At basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, he said all soldiers sat in the same classroom, but they were segregated into separate barracks at the end of the day.
He never finished basic training. Instead, the Army pulled him and more than 20 others to become what are now called drill sergeants.
In that position, 1st Sgt. Rucker trained all soldiers, black and white.
"A soldier was a soldier," he told the Leader.
Standing 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 200 pounds at 19 years old, 1st Sgt. Rucker was an imposing figure.
At several events, he would decline microphones, preferring to use his own booming voice.
One of his biggest goals, he said in 2013, was sharing the legacy of the 555th Parachute Infantry.
"It's an honor to talk to students because a lot of these kids have no idea what the country used to be like," he said.
Most recently, he served as parliamentarian of the Fayetteville chapter of the association.
Services are scheduled for Oct. 9.
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3567. ___
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