Career educator shaped by volatile Vietnam
By Pam Horne, Managing Editor
Randy Tucker just wanted to teach history and surf as a young college graduate living in Jacksonville, Florida during the Vietnam-era.
But the plans he had so carefully made were put on hold indefinitely when his draft notice arrived with orders to report for induction Dec. 24, 1967.
For reasons beyond his control, he found himself completely vulnerable, but he immediately decided to enlist in the Adjutant Generals Corp to avoid an infantry assignment.
That decision, however, was not without a price.
Today, he leads a 125-year-old institution where the expectations of parents, students, alumni, and community are high.
The mission of Battle Ground Academy is clear. The resources and facilities of this school are impeccable.
Forty-five years ago, Tucker’s life was anything but clear.
Like so many who served during the chaos of those times, he existed in a free flowing state of limbo leading up to his enlistment into the Army.
To characterize Tucker as being reticent about his service is an understatement.
“I was not a patriot,” he said candidly this week from his office, where he is serving as interim-head of BGA.
“I was a college student attempting to avoid the draft at all possible cost.”
But in life, there are times you just don’t get the choice.
In fact, at one point while serving as a company clerk he was plucked from a desk job and deployed to a remote Army base in Vietnam with absolutely no idea of his mission.
The only explanation Tucker was given was that his secondary military specialty—light weapons training—was going to be put to use for the next 12 months.
His first week on post, he had absolutely no idea his purpose or future. The fatigues he was wearing when he arrived were dirty and no replacement uniform had been issued.
The uncertainty he felt was only lightened by the fact he knew he had chow and a place to sleep.
At the end of the week, he was informed that he had an interview at the U.S. Army Vietnam Headquarters with a “full bird colonel.”
He arrived dressed in dirty fatigues and met a 6’ 4”, 200 lb-grayed Col. James Couch of the 44th Medical Brigade of the U.S. Army Vietnam Headquarters.
Low-level anxiety had set in, but Tucker’s faculties had not given in to the stress.
“Do you play cards?” was one of the peculiar questions he had been asked prior to his deployment to Vietnam.
Now, in this admittedly awkward interview with a decorated colonel whose mission was to oversee hospitals throughout the theater of war, Tucker recalls being asked if he played Bridge.
In a stretch of truth, he answered yes, but made a mental note of how he might authenticate his response.
“I knew very little about Bridge, but I thought after that I would be going to the Long Binh Post library and getting a Hoyle handbook.”
The Colonel seemed pleased.
After the interview, Tucker learned he had been in a two-man contest he knew nothing about.
He was selected over a fellow soldier, who like him had been sent to the jungle to be considered for the job of bodyguard to Col. Couch.
The events that followed are not easy for Tucker to discuss. He flew with the Colonel by helicopter in and out of firebases over the next year.
Though not in the “trenches” of warfare, Tucker was an eyewitness to the brutality of battle and the physical and mental toll it took on young men, men who had put their lives and dreams on hold to respond to a draft – the likes of which our country has not experienced since.
One year later, Tucker was able to pick up his life, but without any transition from war to workplace.
All that he had felt, observed and mentally processed was compartmentalized, tucked away but subject to the kind of resurrection that sometimes takes flight without warning.
In the mid 1980s, while traveling with a group of young students on an annual pilgrimage to Washington D.C., Tucker slipped away from his group when they visited the Vietnam memorial.
While sitting on the tour bus alone, trying to compose his thoughts, he realized he was not alone.
When he inquired of the young fellow if he was going to tour the memorial the young boy began to sob.
“My father died in Vietnam.”
In a split second, Tucker was able to offer empathy like no other could at this moment in time.
He replied without hesitation.
“I’m sitting on the bus for the same reason you are. Now, we are both getting off the bus and we are going to find your father’s name in the book.”
He never told the student why he had this unusual compassion. He just listened and worked through that moment.
Tucker provided this young man cover and emotional respect during an incredibly venerable moment.
Until that moment he had not allowed himself to fully process those events of war.
Even now, he fully recognizes the scores of young men and women fighting the post-traumatic stress disorder that is still being studied.
In the Vietnam-era there was no plan for transition and as Tucker explains, the trek back home was swift.
“I left Vietnam one day and was teaching history the next.”
Posted on: 11/9/2013