ETX Stories from behind the Vietnam Wall: A road trip brought them together

LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - It's nearly 300 feet long and represents over 58,000 souls. Many who grew up in the 1950s have a direct connection to it through family or friends, but many of us can't go to Washington D.C. to see the full-sized memorial. So the traveling Vietnam Wall was created to come to us.

Hundreds of Veterans attended the "Welcome Home Vietnam Vets" event, and to see the traveling wall at the Gregg County Fairgrounds.

Some of them are linked together in ways they didn't realize until years later.

Jim Ray was on a Stinger, a Vietnam era Gunship. So was Frank Rucker's brother, John. Since Jim was an instructor their paths crossed from time to time, and they even spoke during a pre-flight check, but John and Jim didn't really know each other.

"Sergeant John O Rucker. He was 21. He was on the Stinger crew that kept Puff the Magic Dragon flying: that gunship. He was supposed to process out the next day to come home, and he got killed that night: a rocket attack," said Frank.

A few years ago Jim Ray decided to ride his motorcycle from Palestine to Linden where a Stinger crew member memorial dedication was taking place. It was a memorial for Sergeant John O. Rucker. That's when Jim met John's brother, Frank and found this thread linking them together.

"I walked over there and they said, look he's got the Stinger patch, and we talked and we've gotten to be very good friends since then," Jim said.

Jim Ray lost friends too. He was looking for three names.

"They're all on the same panel, coincidentally: Kenneth Brown, Terrence Courtney, Fred Slater," Jim said, pointing out the names.

Not just those three names. Sergeant John O. Rucker is also in that panel, which is pretty amazing considering how many panels there are on the wall.

But, like life, there's always more.

"And we found out he had a daughter we didn't even know about. She was born in June or July after he got killed in January," Frank revealed.

She was adopted by a Colorado couple when she was a baby and just over a year ago found her American family, the Ruckers. The DNA test proved it.

"Thirty-nine years to find out you have a niece," Said Frank.

The stories of the wall are nearly endless, and touch more of us than we may ever know.

John O. Rucker was the last U.S. soldier killed before the cease fire started. If he would have made it 11 more hours, he would have been on his way home.

Copyright 2013 KLTV. All rights reserved.