Last Roll Call (One of the last Memoirs of WWII. The adventure of a B-17 Tailgunner, volume 1)
Manufacturer: Priority Publishing Company
When he was growing up on the gulf coast in East Point, Florida during the Great Depression, Kenneth Tucker dreamed of one day flying airplanes. His daughter, Wanda Tucker Goodwin, would later dream of becoming a writer. In November of 2009, in Panama City, Florida, Goodwin's dream came true with the release of a memoir of how her father's dream almost came true some six decades earlier.
Father and daughter have collaborated on "Last Roll Call," a 184-page paperback chocked full of vintage photographs of Tucker's adventures as a tail gunner on a B-17 bomber out of Italy during WWII. The book calls itself "one of the last memoirs of WWII," mainly because the rest of Tucker's tight-knit, 10 man crew aboard their flying fortress have all passed away - "As I gaze at the old photographs of my crew, my eyes move from face to face, recalling each name, it's sad for me to acknowledge that they're all gone now, except for me. I'm the last one - the last voice - the only one left to tell our story. Sadly, I know that it's just a matter of time before I stand, for the last time, before my crew and make my last roll call."
A retired Air Force sergeant, Tucker, 84, wanted to record his story ever since shipping out in August of 1943 aboard a Trailways bus out of Apalachicola. More than 60 years later, Goodwin stepped in after 36 years in education. She retired two years ago. It was then that Goodwin offered to help her father record his story. What emerged was a compelling story combining Tucker's detailed recollection with his daughter's loving capture of her dad's humor and insight.
“Last Roll Call”, the story of Kenneth S. Tucker, one of the last surviving B-17 tail gunners of World War II, is a plainly written chronicle of the adventures of a special kind of American hero, the type who in our more complex society of the 21st century is in short supply. Tucker is a simple kind of patriot, devoid of ambivalence and internal conflict. He is anxious simply to tell his story – a slice of history belonging to him and his crew mates alone.
For me, the passage of the book that best tells what Tucker had in mind in writing this book in his waning years is his description of his reaction when standing in front of what his daughter calls his “Wall of Honor”, on which hangs his World War II medals, photos and memorabilia:
“I’ll have to admit: I often pause before the display and marvel at how the years have passed. My attention always drifts to the old photographs of those brave young men...As my eyes move from face to face, recalling each name, it’s sad for me to acknowledge that they’re all gone now, except for me. I’m the last one – the last voice – the only one left to tell our story. Sadly I know that it’s just a matter of time before I stand, for the last time, before my crew and make my last roll call.”
No passage in the book captures Kenneth Tucker, the man, better than this one. Without actually stating it in so many words, Tucker conveys to his readers and perhaps to himself as well, that he considered the writing of this book – the telling of his story - to be an extension of his duty as a soldier and as an American. By this passage, he has come full circle from the civic and national pride instilled in his heart and mind as far back as his third year of high school in Apalachicola, Florida, through all of the dangerous bombing missions in which his first priority was the well-being of his fellow crew members. One cannot help but conclude that Tucker viewed this book as his final mission – one in which he endeavored to remember and honor his fellow airmen and his country.
For aficionados of air combat and long-distance bombing missions, Last Roll Call has plenty of that kind of action. The depictions of the many missions flown by Tucker’s B-17 crew over France, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia are gripping.
But, if one is looking for Tucker’s thoughts, inner feelings, insights, emotions, opinions or observations as to the incredible and unique experiences he had in well over a year of uninterrupted bombing missions, he will not find it here. It seems at times written more by a witness than a participant in an epic of major historical significance.
The reader is, however, treated to a richly detailed story of adventure, danger and valor, even though one never really gets to know the protagonist, until near the end of the book in his genuine and touching reaction to his “Wall of Honor.” Perhaps that is because this brave and humble man, like so many of his generation, simply did not like talking about himself.
Reviewed by: Don Farinacci (2010)