Richard M. Luckenbach, Jr., was the only Sodus resident killed in the Vietnam War. His name can be found on Panel 25W, Row 12 on the national Vietnam Memorial - the Wall. Not listed on the Wall, and possibly not well known in the town he grew up in, is the fact that "Ricky", as his family knew him, was one of our nation's heroes and someone who is still remembered and missed by his parents, siblings, and others who knew him.
"He was lots of fun to be around," said sister, Susan. "People just liked him."
"He was just sweet," his mother, Jeannette agreed. "Before he left for the Army, I asked him if he'd like to do anything special. All he wanted was a family reunion but this was about two days before he was due to leave! It worked though. Everyone was able to come."
Ricky received his draft notice in the summer of 1968, shortly before his 20th birthday, and arrived in Vietnam sometime in September of that year. Starting as a private with the 101st Airborne, by May of 1969 he had moved up in rank to Sergeant with a platoon of men under his command. He received marksmanship awards for four types of weapons, including mortars.
On the night of May 6th, 1969, in Binh Long, his platoon's position came under intense mortar fire, and the men were faltering. Ricky left his bunker to rally his troops to return fire. Amid bursting rounds, both enemy and his own troop's, Ricky carried one wounded man to cover, then returned and climbed to the top of a nearby bunker in order to see the enemy's gun flashes. He remained in that exposed spot through increasingly heavier enemy shelling, shouting accurate adjustments to his mortar crews. Wounded by an exploding shell, he refused to allow his men to come to his aid, ordering them to continue fighting. Ricky eventually was hit a second time, fatally. His mortar crews, inspired by his bravery, continued to fire until the attack was finally halted. For his heroic actions, Sergeant Richard M. Luckenbach was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart, and the Bronze and Silver Stars.
If the mortar attack had taken place just one night later, Ricky would not have been there. "He was killed just six hours before he was supposed to leave to go on R&R," brother Karl said. "He'd been planning to meet his wife in Hawaii." Ricky had married Joan Coleman shortly before leaving for the Army. "I had to sign for him to be able to get married," said his dad, "but not to be in the Army."
Richard Sr., himself a veteran of World War II, had experienced a premonition of his son's death. "When he was leaving, and the man on the bus put Ricky's bag in the luggage compartment underneath, when he shut the door ... It made this sound..." he said. "Right then, I knew that he wasn't going to come back."
Ricky's brother Karl was the driving force behind the Vietnam memorial stone that around 1990 was placed near the western edge of the Sodus Rural Cemetery, on the same foundation as the Civil War and WWI and II memorials. "One day my cousin Ronny said there ought to be one there," Karl remarked, "so I decided to start trying to raise money for it. We held 50/50 raffles, had donation cans at the carnival, and I went door to door too. It only took a couple of months. Karen Ghent designed it and donated a hundred dollars towards it too. Another man gave me a thousand-dollar donation. There was enough money to not only pay for the stone, but to rebuild the foundation, which was in pretty bad shape. The rest went to the maintenance fund."
Though the official Memorial Day has come and gone, the traditional Memorial Day - May 30th - is this Friday. Consider taking a drive to see the three monuments or to visit the grave of a soldier you perhaps didn't even know. If you know someone who has lost a son in a war, call and reminisce with him or her. Let them know you appreciate their sacrifice. "Just before you got here, an old school friend of Ricky's called," Jeannette said. "He said he'd been meaning to call for a long time to let me know how much he enjoyed their friendship and how sorry he was that Ricky was gone. Then you called and then another friend of ours called to let us know that the pastor had talked about Ricky in his sermon yesterday. It's really nice to know that people remember."
Among her mementos of Ricky, Jeannette Luckenbach has a worn "Mother's brag book", filled with pictures of a smiling, chubby cheeked little boy. Taped inside the back cover is a copy of "A Skytrooper's Prayer". The last lines read:
"Give us wisdom to use rightly the power we possess.
Grant us courage so to meet the enemies of freedom
in mountains, jungles and plains, that victory may be ours,
and that peace may be established."
© Williamson (NY) Sun-Record
Used with their kind permission