Lessons from a father

Written by Randy Tucker


He was born near the L ‘Anguille River at the height of the poverty, and desperation of the Great Depression in February 1931. Luther Forrest Tucker was the oldest child of Sally and Forrest Evert Tucker. His younger sister Goldie died of diphtheria when she was only three-years-old, a testament to the hopelessness and despondence of the economic disaster that was the 1930s.


LF, as he was called by friends, grew up hunting and fishing the backwoods of Lee County, Arkansas. He loved the outdoors growing up on his father’s cotton farm, a farm set in one of the few remaining pristine sections of the southern forest. A standout football player for T.A. Futrell High School in the Lee County seat of Mariana, LF graduated in 1950 with no real plans for the future.


One day he came home from work and a telegram waited for him on the kitchen table. He and his parents knew what a telegram from the government meant. America was at war once again, with just a respite of five short years separating the Japanese surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri.  The telegram was a draft notice. LF’s cousin Orthalis served in the Merchant Marine and he had some advice for the 19-year old country boy.  “You’ll always have a dry bunk and three squares a day if you join the Navy,” Orthalis said.


LF drove to nearby Memphis, Tennessee, and enlisted in the US Navy, never opening the telegram.


A few short months later he set sail from San Francisco, headed for the Korean Peninsula on the USS Iowa, a sister ship to the USS Missouri, one of the four Iowa class battleships, the last ever in the American fleet. LF served in the boatswain’s locker, repairing cables, equipment, and tools used on the massive battleship. His bunk was near his workplace on the far forward bow of the Iowa.


His time in Korea with the Iowa included raids on the North Korean coast, naval bombardments with the ship’s massive 16-inch guns supporting Marine and Army units inland and in coastal defense. His tour of combat duty lasted until 1952.


As a sailor onboard the battleship he toured the world, taking port in Tokyo, Subic Bay, Rome, Athens, and his favorite port in Scotland after departing Korea. In Scotland he rediscovered his love of the farm, farm life, and livestock. The fields of Scotland called him home to his ancestors in the McElduff clan. In 1955 he mustered out of the Navy, moving to South Dakota briefly with a friend to try his hand at farming. The venture didn’t last and soon he was back in the service, this time with the rapidly growing United States Air Force.


The Air Force was created just seven years before and LF was sent to the Strategic Air Command. He trained at Lawry Air Force Base near Denver, Colorado on B-47’s. While at Lawry he met Jeanette Gasser, a recent business college graduate working in the Denver Metro. The couple eloped to Raton, New Mexico, and were married in February 1956.


A scant nine months later their first child arrived. Randy was born at the Lake Charles Air Force Base hospital. While at Lake Charles, LF was sent on temporary assignment to London and missed his first Christmas with his family. After three years in Louisiana, he was transferred to Ramey Air Force Base near Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Soon after their arrival, their second child Susan was born at the base hospital.


Louisiana and Puerto Rico were the couple’s salad days. An Airman didn’t make much money and LF had lost a stripe for taking his brief hiatus between resigning from the Navy and joining the Air Force. They lived off base for a while, but found themselves in NCO housing, in a concrete duplex for their final two years on the island. Hurricanes found the young couple three times in the first five years of their marriage. In 1962 they moved to LF’s home state of Arkansas at the SAC base in Blytheville. It was in Blytheville that he was called away from their home and small acreage just beyond the flight line of the base on an international emergency in October 1962.


The “Missiles of October” were very real to Sergeant Tucker and his family. Blytheville was the closest bomber base to Cuba. As tensions rose with John F. Kennedy’s “quarantine” of Cuba over the placement of Soviet missiles by Premier Nikita Khrushchev, Sergeant Tucker and the men of his squadron maintained a dozen B -52’s for nearly a week, staged on the flight line. Crews slept in the aircraft, maintenance crews worked on the bombers as their engines idled, ready to take off in just minutes, each of them carrying nuclear warheads. The Russians blinked, and the crisis passed.


While at Blytheville, his love of the outdoors found him running beagles in game trials. The base commander, a full colonel was often his hunting partner. One weekend he was called away from home on an Operation Readiness Inspection, an ORI drill in Air Force vernacular. Saturday morning a man came to the door and asked his wife if Sergeant Tucker was home and ready to go hunting. His wife lamented that he wasn’t, he was on another of those ridiculous drills called by the base commander. She asked the man who he was and he replied, “Just tell Sergeant Tucker that the base commander came by and was disappointed they couldn’t hunt.”


LF took his family to the west coast, arriving at Travis Air Force Base, the last place soldiers, airmen, and Marines saw of America before leaving for the battlefields of Vietnam. LF became a crew chief, assigned to fire control on the venerable B-52, America’s strategic bomber with the greatest longevity of any aircraft. Fire control involved the defensive weaponry used to protect the giant bomber. Quad 50 caliber machine guns, remote-controlled gun firing mechanism, chaff, and anti-missile defense electronics were all part of the job.


Guns were familiar to him. He remained an excellent shot well into his 80s and won the squadron shooting contest many times. He loved shooting the old M-1 Garand the best. “You can drive nails at 100 yards with an M-1,” he often said.


One day in the shop, a high-pressure hose broke loose, shattering his safety glasses and sending him to the emergency room with glass fragments in his eye.  As he recovered he took it upon himself to repair the flaw in the system that allowed this hose to break loose. He didn’t want any of his men placed in the same situation.


In 1968, he moved the family 40 miles north from Travis to Mather Air Force Base in suburban Sacramento. The late 60s was a time of racial unrest, anti-war violence, and a nation on the verge of tearing itself apart. LF didn’t fall for the rhetoric. His friends remained the men he worked with, black, white or Asian, it didn’t matter, they were just his buddies on the weekends, hunting, fishing, building an addition on the house, Americana at its best.


In 1971, he reached 20 years in the service and retired at 39 years old. He and Jeanette purchased a 250-acre farm 20 miles west of Riverton, Wyoming where Jeanette grew up. The first years were tight fiscally. He took a job in a service station, then later drove a school bus in addition to his military retirement. Gradually the couple paid off the farm and began to make a profit on cattle, hay, and grain.  LF loved the farm, particularly enjoying cutting hay with his swather. He suffered a bout with colon cancer, a heart attack that resulted in a quadruple bypass, and another cardiac incident that sent him back to Denver, near the place the couple met 55 years before for a heart valve replacement.


In his later years his five grandchildren were the pride of his life. A teacher, a nurse, a police officer, a physical therapist, and another teacher who switched careers to the outdoor world that LF loved were his grandchildren. Great-grandchildren soon arrived and LF remained the patriarch of the family. His best times came when his three grandsons, Adam, Jacob, and Brian took him fishing or when he hunted with Brian and Randy for pheasants and mule deer. When the boys were in high school he never missed a football, or basketball game and attended every track meet. While he lived most of his life far away from the cotton fields, lazy rivers, and woods of his youth, his roots as an Arkansas farm boy never left him.


He was known for colloquial phrases that perfectly describe a situation. A man disgusted by politicians, he said this when asked about some of them, “That boy is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.” On arrogant people he had another classic line, “I’d like to buy him for what he’s worth, and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth.”


The favorite with his grandsons was one used to describe toughness, akin to the size of the dog in the fight. One night while raccoon hunting in the woods near his boyhood home a big boar raccoon raced up a black walnut tree and jumped into a hole near the top, a few seconds later the raccoon jumped out of the hole, onto a nearby branch and took off. A possum looked briefly out of the hole at the hunters on the ground. “A possum will whip a coon” was his line whenever someone came up against long odds.


When someone told him a tall tale he’d come back with, ”If I squeezed all the BS out of you, you’d fit in a snus can.” To his granddaughters Amron and Staci he had a saying about wearing too much makeup that the girls will always remember, “All that powder and paint makes you look like something you ain’t” He slowed down in his later years but still came out to help his son harvest hay by running the swather or pulling the baler on a tractor.  He took his last deer, a buck at 73 on the Sweetwater River near his home in town.


While in the Navy and later in the Air Force he worked with heavy amounts of asbestos. In his final years, he suffered breathing issues with asbestosis and it eventually took his life in February of 2018.


A farm boy who saw the world, defended his nation, raised a family, and made a difference in the world.