The life of the late Arthur Ricker Sr., an Army veteran of the 1944 D-Day invasion of Europe who was regarded as a hero by many Greene Countians, was celebrated Sunday, the 77th anniversary of the invasion.
The ceremony was well attended by family and friends of Ricker, who remember him as a loving husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and friend as well as for his contributions to victory during World War II, which he was widely known in the community for sharing his memories of. Among Ricker’s friends in attendance were members of the American Legion Post 64, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1990 and several public figures.
Although Ricker, 99, passed away in October, the celebration of life was postponed due to COVID-19.
“We have closure now,” said one of Ricker’s daughters Connie Ricker Smith. “I know mom and dad were here with us, and they were looking down with a big smile.”
“I think it is closure, and dad would want all World War II veterans celebrated on this day. This was a celebration of them all, because they gave their all,” said Ricker’s youngest daughter Christy Ricker DeBusk.
Rep. David Hawk, who said he remembers Ricker fondly a personal friend for 30 years who cared deeply for other people, agreed that Ricker “was symbolic of all veterans of World War II because he remembered and would tell his story. He was always right there, front and center, to tell the story of all veterans.”
Hawk spoke during the ceremony and, afterwards, on behalf of the state he presented each of Ricker’s children with a flag once flown over the capitol building and a proclamation in honor of Ricker’s military service.
“I believe honoring him the way we did today honors them all, and I am proud to be a part of that,” Hawk said.
Grady Barefield, chairman of the Greene County Veterans Association, also spoke during the ceremony before he participated in a 21-gun salute for Ricker with other members of the American Legion Post 64.
Ricker was 23 when, as a member of the U.S. Army’s 4th Division, he stormed Utah Beach on June 6, 1944, called “Operation Overlord” by military planners at the time, but now known to the world as D-Day.
On that day, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified French coastline. More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the invasion, and by the day’s end, the Allies had gained a tenuous foothold in Normandy.
The cost was high: more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded, but Ricker and more than 100,000 others began the long march across Europe to defeat Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
Ricker served as a combat engineer in France and Germany until the end of the war, and he shared his vivid memories of those experiences freely well into his 90s until his passing last year.
In a June 2020 interview with The Greeneville Sun, Ricker said that he thought frequently about his role in World War II. Many of his friends never made it home.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. I guess I think something about it every day,” Ricker said. “I think of God. He spared my life.”
Dr. Nathan Leasure, senior pastor at First Church of God, where the ceremony was held as Ricker’s home church for more than 50 years, gave a eulogy on Sunday in which he recalled how Ricker credited God and his mother’s prayers with his survival during the war.
“Dad didn’t consider himself a hero, but I think they are all heroes,” said DeBusk. “I am very blessed to have had him as my dad and for the things he taught me. I’m thankful he was a Christian. He was a good one, and he taught me so much. My children are blessed to have him in their lives.”
Mark Ricker, another of Ricker’s seven children and his youngest son, also said he learned much from Ricker throughout his life.
“He was a very interesting man, and I learned a lot from him through the farm,” he said. “He was a good man to talk to, and he is very missed. I am honored to have him as a dad.”
City Administrator Todd Smith said he is one of the many people who considered Ricker one of his heroes.
“I got the opportunity to meet him in the last nine years or so, and he was like a walking history book,” Smith said.
Smith said Ricker’s story is one of “an incredible life well lived,” and that he enjoyed every opportunity possible to hear Ricker’s stories of his time fighting in World War II, including when Ricker shared with him that he saw Theodore Roosevelt Jr. directing traffic at Utah Beach in France during the first wave of the Normandy landings.
“Arthur was among the last of a thinning breed,” said Greene County Mayor Kevin Morrison. “Seventy-seven years ago today was their finest hour, and he was a part of that. The country and the world owes them a debt time or money could never repay.”
Barefield said he knew Ricker well through the American Legion post and called Ricker an inspiration.
“He was a great inspiration to me, and it is an honor to give back to him and honor him for what he has given to our country,” Barefield said.
Ricker’s family said the patriotic ceremony was something to be proud of.
“Dad was very patriotic. He lived, breathed and slept his patriotism,” said oldest daughter Diane Ricker Crum, who was born on June 6. Another family member, Ricker’s grandson Scott Jaynes, shares the same birthday.
“Everything was very nice and very patriotic. Daddy would be proud,” Connie Ricker Smith said of the ceremony.