Army Air Forces of
World War II
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.
The volumes written about strategic bombing by the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II often neglect the personal experiences of thousands of young men whose patriotism, courage and selfless devotion to their crew made the final victory possible. In the fall and winter of l944-45, the bloody skies over Europe were the arena where Ken Tucker, a B-17 tailgunner and his crew fought for survival - one mission at a time.
This book is Ken's personal story, but it is also the story of ten young Americans molded into an efficient bomber crew by rigorous months of training and bonding like brothers by the tragedy and crisis of aerial combat. In the end, it was only their pride in themselves, their crew and their country that enabled them to face another day of fatigue, brutal cold, German fighters and deadly flak. Ken Tucker would adamantly deny any claim to hero status, but I urge you to read this compelling story and decide for yourself.
Raymond B. Tucker
Lt. Col. USAF Ret,
(No relation to the author)
Ken Tucker transports you to a time 70 years ago like you are personally in the war and living in those times. You soon find yourself in a WWII B-17, flying a highly dangerous mission far from home with the rest of the bomber crew living each moment like you are actually there with them. It seems that real. It was almost uncanny how I got to "see" and "feel" and "hear' even "smell" the images, sounds and smells of being in a B17 flying through flak, fighters and some frightening unexpected things that go wrong. I grew to know and form a camaraderie with Ken and the other crew members and seemed to sense the special bond they formed facing death together during 35 missions. Being a parent myself, I identified with Ken's dad, himself a military man, who sends his son to war and later welcomes him back (with a ton of relief). This book transformed me in a number of ways, perhaps not dissimilar to going back there in a time machine - flying with the B17 crew during their missions and other times together - and making it back home intact and battle tested. My respect and admiration - and love - for our air men who so courageously flew these magnificent bombers to help defeat the Nazis rose exponentially after reading Ken's account. I am also so grateful for their bravery and sacrifice. Every night when I was reading this book before retiring it literally became my world... and much more so than watching a movie. It was exciting and compelling reading. It also sparked a new interest in reading as much as I can now about the air war over Europe during those years and our pivotal part in it.
Richard Weiss VMD, PhD
College of Veterinary Medicine
Auburn University, AL
Reviews From Authors
Remembering World War Two Airmen
I had the good fortune recently to read a book by B-17 tailgunner 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.
Many readers of WWII memoirs are on the lookout for signed memoirs. Here is your chance to pick one up. Follow the link below to Ken's website, and put in an order for a copy of this book. He'll personalize it and autograph it. 186 pages. Soft cover trade paperback. Illustrated with black and white photographs.
I want to compliment you two on the fine job you did. "Last Roll Call" is not a novel, nor is it a riveting non-fiction. What it is, is a remarkable memoir of a man who fought in B17s, in the 15th AF, flying from Italy in WWII.This theatre of war is often neglected in favor of the more famous 8th AF, that flew from England during the war.
Your father's insistence of sticking with the facts, and sticking with the facts especially as he knew them, made for a fine book. I really liked the mission descriptions, but the training and requirements to get there were very important. This made for a much better
understanding of your dad's wartime duties from start to finish.
Of course I am a little biased, being the son of a tailgunner myself. I think I told you that my father, S/Sgt. Donald Merle Alton, flew with the 91st BG out of Bassingbourn, in 1943. He was shot down in October,and spent the rest of the war in Stalag XVII-B, Krems, Austria.
Thank you so much for taking the effort to put this book out there for
all of us.
Salt Spring Island, BC
Donald J. Farinacci
Military Writers Society of America
“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.
The reader is 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.
Last Roll Call is a heart-warming recount of a young man's coming of age as he willingly put his life at risk to serve our country. As a B-17 tail-gunner during WWII, Ken Tucker's world expanded from the bosom of a small town in the panhandle of Florida, Eastpoint, to Europe, primarily Italy. The life-lessons he learned and shares in his book are only overshadowed by the truth of his courage and the intensity of his commitment to do the right thing in the league of brave men who were his colleagues. I read this book in one sitting riveted by a dawning awareness that the life of Ken Tucker may very well have had a hand in saving not only our country but my life as well.
C. W. Randolph Jr. MD