Talking with Tom Tucker and hearing his life’s experiences was such an honor.
You see, I never spoke with my dear ole Dad about his WWII experiences in the South Pacific as he passed away suddenly at age 50 on D-Day 1969 shortly after my Army service.
For me, men such as Tom Tucker are a rare breed and special.
Born August 13, 1926 in Los Angeles, Tom grew up in South Pasadena.
His high school days were tumultuous, to say the least, as he attended several high schools managing a diploma from South Pasadena High School in June 1942.
Tom tried joining the Navy at age 16; he ultimately succeeded at age 17 in November 1942.
While going through Boot Camp in San Diego, Tom finally learned to respect discipline and authority; yeah, military training has that effect.
After Boot Camp he travelled by train to attend eight months of signal schooling at the University of Illinois; and then to attend a diving school in New York.
Next, Tom was sent to the Naval Amphibious Base at Little Creek, Virginia where he volunteered for a mysterious assignment.
Six hours after arriving at his new base, Tom left for six months of Naval Amphibious Training at Fort Pierce, Florida. Tom was to become an underwater demolition diver which predated the Navy Seals.
By November 1944, he was off to San Pedro, California – via another train trip. During this period, there was no opportunity to take a leave of absence, nor was he even allowed a phone call to his family.
Tom’s next adventure was on a slow ship to Maui where his Underwater Demolition Team 19 boarded the USS Knudsen 101 and steamed towards the South Pacific arriving at Iwo Jima March 1945.
The next stage sent the men off to Ulithi Atoll in the Caroline Islands of the western Pacific Ocean. It was a staging point for operations against various Japanese occupied islands including Iwo Jima, Guam, Leyte, and Okinawa.
Tom said he had never seen so many ships in one place as there were at Ulithi.
Tom’s memories of the South Pacific remain vivid as he spoke about the following events.
While on antisubmarine duty in early 1945, the USS Knudsen was attacked by a Japanese bomber, but the gunnery mates shot down that plane after two bombs narrowly missed his ship.
By the time the USS Knudsen arrived at Iwo Jima, the Marines assault had already began. Japanese guns fired and hit the USS Knudsen seriously wounding two sailors.
Due to Tom’s medic training, he assisted hospital staff attempting to save one of the sailor’s life, but he didn’t make it. Both sailors were KIA.
Tom forever remembers being ordered to take a bucket of body parts to throw off the ship’s fantail into the sea…. in doing so, he passed out.
Tom recalled transferring onto a submarine for a special operation at Agama Island near Guam.
His four-man unit, armed only with knuckle knives, took a rubber raft to shore for a night recon patrol to observe enemy activity. They spotted Japanese soldiers and military hardware everywhere.
The men broke into two teams but after circling the island, the other two sailors simply did not return. It was presumed they were either captured or killed.
Because Agama and other Japanese occupied islands were cut off, the US Navy simply bypassed them.
While on R & R at Ulithi Atoll, Tom went to a remote beach and spotted one other sailor there so Tom joined him and casually spoke about the war.
Tom asked the sailor what he job was, but the sailor glossed over the question.
Suddenly, a uniformed officer appeared and said, “Admiral Halsey it’s time to go.”
Tom was astounded that he had just chatted with one of the most powerful men in American military history.
While delivering 155 artillery howitzers at Akashima Island, Tom and several buddies set out to find souvenir swords off dead Japanese soldiers.
Tom found one dead soldier but his body was bloated and stunk so badly that he could not bring himself to take the sword.
Before departing, the beach, a remaining Japanese soldier fired at Tom and his boys and Ensign Killow was hit in the buttocks. That enemy soldier retreated into the brush as the guys blasted away.
Okinawa, Pearl Harbor
April 1, 1945, the day initial amphibious landings on Okinawa took place; the USS Knudson continued antisubmarine warfare patrols during amphibious landings at Hagushi, Okinawa.
The sailors continued escorting battleships and cruisers in the northern Philippines until stopping in at Pearl Harbor and then to Bremerton, Washington.
Once Emperor Hirohito surrendered August 15, 1945, the USS Knudsen was redirected to San Pedro, California.
Tom was honorably discharged May 16, 1946. Tom’s awards include Asiatic-Pacific Medal with 2 Stars, Philippine Liberation Medal, Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation Badge, WWII Victory Medal, and Naval Combat Badge.
After discharge, Tom went to his Mother’s home in Los Angeles and promptly found work at a gas station, but soon went to work for JW Robinsons owned by his family members.
He worked at May Company; the Auto Club selling white wall tires; then sold Cadillac’s; and he worked at Howard Automobile Company.
Later in life, Tom had the chance to hobnob with celebrities and sports stars such as Johnny Weissmuller, Sammy Sneed, Leo Carrillo, and more as a result of his step father, Charles Howard, owned the infamous race horse Seabiscuit, and other fine race horses.
Living the Good Life
Tom was leading the good life.
He loved dancing learning the fox trot, tango, and ball room, but his favorite part of dancing was the women who bought him drinks hand over fist.
Tom married his first wife, Myrtis McGee and they had one daughter. Later, he married his second wife Dixie, and then he married Sydney. Altogether Tom has 7 children, 15 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren.
These days, he loves attending Santa Clarita’s Veterans Day, Memorial Day & July 4th ceremonies and parades. Stating the obvious, Tom has led a dazzling life and he dearly adores the city of Santa Clarita and this great country.
Bill Reynolds is one of the “Boys of ‘67,” Charlie Company, 4th/47th, 9th Infantry Division and director of veterans affairs for The Signal.