April 28, 2012 4:26:13 PM
BOOK SIGNING: Jim Tucker and Charlotte Hardy to attend Friday book signing at Lee Home.
BY JAN SWOOPE
When Jim Tucker graduated from S.D. Lee High School in 1952, it's possible he imagined that, six decades later, he might return to Columbus for a milestone class reunion. But he could not have envisioned he'd be sitting beside his daughter, signing books filled with memories from a significant part of his life.
Lt. Col. (Ret.) James M. Tucker has spent much of the past three years fulfilling a promise to his daughter, Charlotte Hardy of Columbus.
In 2009, Hardy, acting as "aide-de-camp," accompanied her father to a different reunion -- a 90th annual gathering of officers who had been in combat with the First Infantry Division, known as "The Big Red One."
On that trip, Hardy remarked to her father, "Daddy, I don't know anything about your military career."
Only then, Tucker said, did it really sink home that his daughter hadn't been born until he was a lieutenant colonel, that she had been too young to remember any assignments, except his last, during his Army career of 22 years, five of them with the Ranger Department of the U.S. Army Infantry School.
The decorated veteran was haunted by his daughter's statement.
"I realized I did not want to leave the earth without passing on to my family something that hints at the essence of who I was as an Infantry soldier," shared Tucker, who was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Member of The Ranger Training Brigade.
The end result is "An Infantryman's Stories for his Daughter," a 132-page soft cover memoir Tucker authored with the help of his former captain and close friend, Lt. Col (Ret.) John E. Gross.
Handing it down
"Once, we used to all gather around the campfire and pass on what happened to the last generation and the generation before that," said Tucker Wednesday, by phone from his home in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
"We no longer have the campfire, and the only way we know about our lineage ... is what has been written," he continued. "I encourage anybody that wants their child or grandchild to know about them and why you were as you were, to write it down and give it to them."
Compiling the stories and committing them to paper was a long and taxing undertaking. The result, Tucker states, is a mixture of the serious, the sad, the melancholy, the ironic, the amusing and the downright hilarious episodes that peppered his military career.
Hardy had always been curious about the "missing years," the ones before she was born and came to know her father.
"I knew there was a lot more to him, but he never spoke much of all those days," she said.
Throughout the book process, Tucker encountered every powerful emotion. Some chapters inspired laughter, like an Air Force C-130 incident in 1967 near the Cambodian border. Others brought tears, often shared in phone conversations with his daughter.
"The word he used most was 'cathartic,'" said Hardy. "The book gives me such an insight of why my dad is who he is -- that Ranger mentality. ... I love the fact that the book is written to me, and that other people in it talk to me."
Gross' generous contributions supply Hardy with personal memories of her father and mother, as well as an articulate perspective on her dad's service and life in the Army.
While "An Infantryman's Stories to his Daughter" is first and foremost an account of one father's experience, it also provides a glimpse into a country training for and at war, a country's sacrifice and courage and the bond between soldiers in combat.
Hardy said, "It is probably the kindest, sweetest, most special thing you can do for a child, for a parent to really write in words how their lives were before you knew them."
Father and daughter will attend a book signing at the S.D. Lee Home, 316 Seventh St. N., May 4, from 3-5 p.m., while Tucker is in Columbus for a Lee High Generals reunion. There is no charge for the book.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.