Writing history

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 7, 2001

NATCHEZ – Memories of his World War II experiences came slowly for Fielding Tucker as he began in recent years to write his memoirs. Only because of his children’s continued urging did he persist, he said, speaking by phone from his home in Pooler, Ga.

Now his writing is paying off, not only because his memories flood back more easily but also because publishers have become interested in his work.

He would not call himself a hero, but the list of his battles is long. He was at Battle of the Bulge. He was in the division that liberated Rome. He participated in the capture of Anzio. He and his comrades literally made the way easier for those who followed in the invasion of Normandy.

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Tucker’s work will be included in &uot;World War II Letters,&uot; scheduled to be released by Adler Publishers in 2002. His memoirs also will be included in &uot;The Battle of Montelimar,&uot; by Oliver Blanc-Brude, a professor at Yale University, also to be issued in 2002.

A mere boy at the time

Tucker, who spent more than 30 years at The Natchez Democrat, retiring in the 1980s as superintendent of production, recalls hearing the news of Dec. 7, 1941, as he walked down one of the main streets of Vicksburg. He was a high school boy then, and already he had begun his newspaper career.

&uot;I had an after-school job at the Vicksburg Post as a galley boy,&uot; Tucker said. He continued that job for two more years, and at 18 became a soldier.

&uot;I had gone to sign up with the Navy,&uot; he said. &uot;But when the man came with the papers, my mother wouldn’t sign. She ran him off.&uot;

He had not reached age 18 at that time. When his birthday did come around, the Army drafted him.

Tucker spent his first Army days at Fort McClellan, Ala., where he went through basic training. &uot;We were all so young,&uot; he said. It was 1943. He continued training in amphibious landings at Fort Mead, Md., and trained further in Oran in Africa. In Italy, he trained for mountain combat, putting it to use as he fought with the division that captured Rome.

Memories rekindled, bittersweet

Of all the memories that have come back to him, one of the standouts is the experience at Ribeauville, France, where he and his fellow infantrymen ran headlong into German troops.

The fighting was fierce, and Tucker recalls deep bitterness and frustration with the war as he witnessed the deaths of many of his good friends there.

&uot;During basic training, they turned us against the enemy. They taught us to maim and to kill,&uot; Tucker said. &uot;That really didn’t stick to me too much until then in Ribeauville, and losing my buddies made me pretty bitter. Almost our entire company was wiped out.&uot;

Time has provided sweetness from the bitter, however. In the 1990s, Tucker began to visit some of the small French villages he had helped to liberate from the Germans. He was surprised with honors and awards from villages such as Ribeauville and Anould.

Moreover, he rekindled friendships with some of the people he had known so many years ago. One friendship is with the Bott family.

&uot;There was a big winery in Ribeauville run by the Bott family,&uot; Tucker said. &uot;We went into the winery looking for Germans, and there was one old man standing in the basement by the big wooden wine vats. He kept gesturing in a way that we thought there were Germans behind the vats.&uot;

Thankfully, Tucker and the others with him held their fire. &uot;We were ready to shoot, and then members of the family began coming out from behind the vat,&uot; he said.

One of them, Pierre, a 12-year-old boy then, was among those he found on a trip to the village in 1991.

They remain friends and correspond frequently. Pierre Bott continues to operate the family winery.

A life lived to its fullest

After the war, Tucker decided to remain in the Army for another tour of duty. This time, however, he took his wife with him when he was assigned to a base in Germany.

&uot;Our first child was born there,&uot; he said. &uot;And then in 1949 we moved to Natchez. That’s when I began working for The Democrat.&uot;

Tucker and his wife had seven more children, all of whom grew up in Natchez. &uot;That was really something to bring up eight children back then.&uot;

Three of the children still live in Natchez and Vidalia. They are Diana Hinson, Janie Reyes and Becky Ferguson. He plans to visit the Natchez area during the Christmas season, and in the spring of 2002 he will make another trip to France.

On earlier trips to France he has located gravesites of some of the good friends he lost during the war. And he has begun to correspond with some of those who, like him, made it back from the war and are still alive to recall the experiences.

Tucker was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with V Device for Valor, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Silver Star and many others for the part he played in the liberation of Italy and France. It was a long way from Pearl Harbor. It seemed years since that December in 1941 when he was still a youth. But he knows he was among the blessed, he said. &uot;I know I was among the lucky ones,&uot; he said. &uot;I know there was someone watching over me.&uot;