Richard “Al” Sones, 76: Combat vet dedicated his life to service

Though no one ever said it, Al Sones could have been called the veteran whisperer.

The two-time combat veteran had a way of connecting with fellow vets that was uniquely his own.

“I worked for the VA for 35 years and Al was the most extraordinary man at communicating with veterans and handling concerns that veterans had,” said Larry Deal, a former Atlanta VA hospital director. “He was better at it than anyone I ever worked with. He was phenomenal.”

After 30 years serving in the Army and retiring with the rank of colonel, Sones spent another 15 years working with the Department of Veterans Affairs, retiring from that post in 2005, said Mary Kay Sones, his wife of 48 years.

“He was extremely proud of his military service,” Sones said. “It was a very important part of his life.”

Richard Allen Sones, called Al by all, of Suwanee, died Saturday of complications from a fall. He was 76.

Funeral Mass is planned for 2 p.m. on Wednesday at the Catholic Church of St. Monica in Duluth. Burial at Arlington National Cemetery will be held at a later date. Wages & Sons, Gwinnett Chapel, is in charge of arrangements.

Sones’ military career began after he earned a degree in journalism from Louisiana State University in the mid-‘50s, his wife said. The native of Bogalusa, La., had already served six months in the Army before he decided to go re-up. It would become his life’s pursuit.

“I think he really liked the idea of serving his country,” Sones said of her husband. “And he ended up staying.”

Al Sones was trained as a helicopter pilot and served two tours in Vietnam. He lived overseas and was also stationed in Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, among other regions. He earned a number of medals and awards, including two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Legion of Merit award.

It was his military career that brought the couple to Atlanta in 1983. Sones was initially in public affairs at the U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort McPherson and later completed his career at Fort Gillem, his wife said.

Matthew Sones, of Lilburn, said his father’s dedication to family and country will never be forgotten.

“I know it sounds cliché, but to me he was a real American hero,” his son said. “He embodied an attitude that I don’t seem to see a lot anymore. He never put himself first. It was always family or his troops, but never himself.”

Deal recognized similar traits.

“At the risk of sounding corny, he was, all things considered, the kind of person you hope your child grows up to be like,” he said. “He had all of the virtues and values that we all hope that we as individuals have. We generally don’t have them all, but he did.”

In addition to his wife and son, Sones is survived by his daughter, Samantha Fair of Lawrenceville, and seven grandchildren.