Naples: “Last Roll Call” Excerpt

37 – Naples

My group was marched down toward the end of the pier where one of those stream-lined cruise ships was docked. My spirits quickly lifted at the thought of sailing home on one of those sleek, fast, luxury liners. Just as we were about to approach the liner, I heard, “Left turn!” We marched down a narrow pier where we were greeted by an old, rusty liberty ship.

 The Last Roll Call written by Kenneth Tucker and Wanda Tucker Goodwin.

Hugh T. Harrington: “Last Roll Call” Review

Mr. Tucker was a B-17 tail gunner in the 97th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force. He flew his 35th mission shortly before the end of the war…and shortly before his 20th birthday. He and his daughter Wanda Tucker Goodwin have written an account of his service beginning with the Pearl Harbor attack when Ken was still in school, through his training and his experiences flying out of Amendola, Italy.

Mr. Tucker does not dwell on the details of the training or combat. Knowledgeable AAF enthusiasts will not find much that is new to them. However, those who are new to the study of the U.S. contributions the air war in Europe will be delighted.

The writing style is wonderful. The book reads as if Mr. Tucker were sitting across the room telling the reader about his experiences. I didn’t want the story to end. He is very modest in his approach but reading between the lines it is clear that this was no picnic.

The book reads fast and left me very satisfied. I also had great admiration for Mr. Tucker and those thousands of men who flew with him.


Hugh T. Harrington, Author of Civil War Milledgeville: Tales from the Confederate Capital of Georgia

 The Last Roll Call written by Kenneth Tucker and Wanda Tucker Goodwin.

Interrogation: “Last Roll Call” Excerpt

25:  Interrogation

After one particularly rough mission, I got a little carried away with the shots. I always took mine and Jack’s because he didn’t drink. Michael wasn’t feeling too well that day so he let me have his. Somebody else offered me another, and I happily threw that one down too. Before I had time to take anybody up on another offer, Dwight took me by the arm and told me I had had enough. He led me out to the truck waiting to take us to interrogation. When we arrived and started climbing out, he pointed his finger at me and said, “Don’t you say a damn word.”

The Last Roll Call written by Kenneth Tucker and Wanda Tucker Goodwin.

Santa Ana Army Air Field, California: “Last Roll Call” Excerpt

9 – Santa Ana Army Air Field, California: Classification

We had been there less than two weeks when everybody in my squadron received a letter from General Hap Arnold, Commanding General of the Army Air Corp. That memo would forever change our military dreams. It read something like this: “At this time there are too many personnel in air-crew training. Your squadron will be taken out of training. You will be given your choice of other fields that are experiencing shortfalls.”

The Last Roll Call written by Kenneth Tucker and Wanda Tucker Goodwin.

My Family: “Last Roll Call” Excerpt

Chapter 3:  My Family

I was very happy and proud to see my family doing all we could to help with the war efforts. We did the best we could with our ration cards and were always willing to help out other families who never seemed to have enough food and supplies. Because Dad produced food for the public, he was entitled to more than the usual ration of gasoline which was two gallons a week. My family never went hungry, but we sure did eat a lot of mullet and beans. Even today, fried mullet and lima beans remain one of my favorite meals, maybe with the addition of a little coleslaw.

The Last Roll Call written by Kenneth Tucker and Wanda Tucker Goodwin.

Combat Mission #1: “Last Roll Call” Excerpt

32:  Combat Mission #1

The day finally arrived, November 19, 1944, the first of my 35 required combat missions. If that wasn’t stressful enough, I learned that first-combat missions were never flown with your own crew; instead you flew with an experienced crew. I understood the logic, but it sure was a strange and scary feeling to board that Fortress and prepare for the mission with a bunch of strangers.

The Last Roll Call written by Kenneth Tucker and Wanda Tucker Goodwin.

Shot Down: “Last Roll Call” Excerpt

33:  Shot Down

As the plane slowed down, we noticed a small crowd had gathered. When we came to a stop, some members of the greeting party moved closer. We were all pretty anxious to get out of that plane, so I quickly opened the door. As long as I live, I will never forget those three women who were standing so close to the door they were actually blocking our exit. They were so scary, my first instinct was to slam the door shut and grab my pistol. Each one of the women was about the size and shape of a refrigerator. Their uniforms looked like they were made out of those olive drab GI blankets. On their caps was the prominent Communist red star. Each one had a bandolier of ammunition with a sub-machine gun slung over their shoulders. Boy, they were mean looking, with no expression on their faces whatsoever. They just stood there, glaring at us, until Dunigan came forward and attempted to get them to back up so we could get out. He wasn’t having much luck, and I was beginning to think that maybe we should have ditched in the Adriatic.

The Last Roll Call written by Kenneth Tucker and Wanda Tucker Goodwin.

The Trip Over: “Last Roll Call” Excerpt

13:  The Trip Over

So now we knew that we were not going to be joining the illustrious 8th Air Force in England. We were not going to be in an English-speaking country with friendly neighbors and pretty local girls to date. We wouldn’t have local pubs to visit or weekend passes to London. There was little chance that Andy Rooney or Walter Cronkite would be paying us a visit. The war correspondents wanted assignments where they had access to comfortable hotels and good meals. No chance that Major Clark Gable would grace us with an appearance. He was a glamour boy who had been assigned to the 8th to help boost their glamorous reputation. Bob Hope’s USO Shows probably wouldn’t make it to our area either. No, we were headed to the not-so-glamorous 15th Air Force.

The Last Roll Call written by Kenneth Tucker and Wanda Tucker Goodwin.

Welcome Home: “Last Roll Call” Excerpt

39:  Welcome Home

Through the front window, I saw my dad jump up off the steps of the crab house and run toward the bus. When the bus stopped and I stepped out, my dad had almost reached me. He was running from the crab house hollering, “Kenneth’s home! Kenneth’s home!” When my dad grabbed me, I could feel his body shake with relief. I remember the smell of cooking crabs on his skin and clothes; for once, I rejoiced in that smell. When he finally let me go and I could look at his face, tears were in his eyes – he looked older.

Last Roll Call written by Kenneth Goodwin and Wanda Tucker Goodwin

Rob Morris: “Last Roll Call” Review

I had the good fortune recently to read a book, The Last Roll Call, by B-17 tail-gunner Kenneth S. Tucker, who flew with the 97th Bomb Group in the 15th Air Force in World War Two. I also had the pleasure of communicating with his daughter, Wanda Tucker Goodwin, who helped her dad write the book. Though I’ve read literally hundreds of books about the air was in Europe, I was surprised at how much interesting information was in Mr. Tucker’s book that I did not know about.

Most memoirs of the European air war are about the Eighth Air Force, which during and after the war garnered the lion’s share of the publicity. A large part of this was simple proximity to those who reported the war. London was teeming with reporters looking for a good story, and the Eighth’s bomber boys were only a few miles away. On the other hand, there were very few reporters willing or able to go to Amendola, Italy, and live in the alternately muddy and dusty tent cities there, surrounded by the crushing poverty of the Italian natives.

Mr. Tucker covers his life from his early days as a son of a fisherman in Florida, though his training, and into combat in the flak-filled skies over Europe. His writing is clear, unembellished, and honest. He develops the personalities of the various members of the crew as he recounts the missions, so that one feels like one knows the young men on the crew. He also tells of his visits to various places of interest on his time off, such as Pompeii and the Isle of Capri.

Rob Morris, Author of Untold Valor: Forgotten Stories of American Bomber Crews over Europe in World War II