R.A. the Rugged Man Mourns Loss of Father and War Hero

The arrival of the New Year has become a moment of sadness with the death of Staff Sgt. John A Thorburn, the father of underground rap artist R.A. the Rugged Man.

Thorburn, a highly decorated veteran, passed away on January 7 from stage four cancer in the lungs, hip and kidney. He was 63.

Prior to his death, Thorburn enjoyed a eventful career in the military. As a member of the Army, the serviceman was assigned to the Green Berets in the 10th Special Forces Group as well as the Screaming Eagles in the 101st Airborne Division in the Screaming Eagles. Thorburn later enlisted in the Air Force, where he became a helicopter crew chief and instructor gunner.

During the Vietnam War, Thorburn played an active role while embarking on various secret missions behind enemy lines. The missions would forever affect Thorburn, who was exposed to the chemical Agent Orange. The exposure remained undiscovered years after the military man came home from Vietnam. It wasn’t until the birth of two of Thorburn’s children that the impact of Agent Orange was felt as the siblings were born severely mentally and physically handicapped.

The legendary war hero’s plight was immortalized by R.A. the Rugged Man more than 20 years later via a verse on the song “Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story.” The little more than four-minute track, which appears on the 2006 Jedi Mind Tricks album Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell, offers a gripping account on the effects of the Vietnam War on soldiers and their families. Although the song as a whole was lauded as one of the standouts on Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell, listeners and critics were especially impacted by R.A.’s nearly two-minute verse, which received continuous praise from various publications and websites. The rapper’s 44-bar verse is considered by many to be one of his best.

According to R.A. the Rugged Man, Thorburn “loved the idea” of sharing his Vietnam experience with him and was “blown away” after listening to “Uncommon Valor.”

“He couldn’t believe it. He was blown the f**k away, like, “Holy s**t, it’s like you were there.” It brought some of his friends to tears. They were really happy and impressed with it,” R.A. revealed in a 2007 interview with The Smoking Section.

“As far as talking about his experience, he was ok with it. He told me all the stories in the past. But there is one part of his story that he doesn’t talk about. My dad’s gun shot 4,000 bullets a minute," the rapper stated. "He was shooting 30,000 bullets a day sometimes. When I say, 'Hey pops, how many people did you kill while you were there?' he’ll say, 'Oh son, I didn’t kill nobody. I didn’t take lives I saved lives.' He looks at it like he wasn’t killing; he was saving the lives of his people. So he’ll never tell me how many lives he took. But the rest of it he’s totally open about.”

Realizing how talented his son was on the mic, Thorburn expressed his admiration for R.A. during a video interview last year on ArtofRhyme.com

“Any father would be very proud as far as he’s come in the music business and what he’s done. His achievements are amazing. One after the other. The music. And then the movie he did Bad Biology, you might be familiar with that,” said Thorburn, who appeared in a cameo role in Bad Biology. “I’m very proud of him He’s always been a good son.”

Thorburn’s accomplishments in Vietnam were recognized in 2008 with New York State Senator John J. Flanagan awarding him the Conspicuous Service Cross.

The honor was one of many bestowed upon Thorburn, who received the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with two Oak leaf Clusters, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, the National Defense Service Medal and numerous others.

In 2007, Thorburn was diagnosed with fourth stage cancer in the lungs, hip and kidney. The condition would ultimately prove to be fatal as the cancer traveled to Thorburn’s brain. A documentary chronicling the military hero’s life is currently in production.

Thorburn is survived by his wife, Dee, two daughters, Lisa & Niki-Lee and two sons R.A., and Johnny Omar.