D-Day Anniversary: Tucsonan preserves stories of Normandy invasion heroes

History comes to life for daughter, finding dad's photo on eBay
2014-06-06T00:00:00Z 2014-06-06T17:35:37Z D-Day Anniversary: Tucsonan preserves stories of Normandy invasion heroesBy Carmen Duarte Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Tucsonan Jeannie Tucker was stunned when she saw an old photo for sale on eBay of her father showing her and her mother a map of Omaha Beach where he landed on June 6, 1944.

That 50-year-old photo — taken when Jeannie was 4 years old, and another of her father trying on his Army uniform — were shot by a photographer of the Miami Herald who was interviewing James W. Tucker for a D-Day anniversary article in 1964.

Jeannie Tucker purchased the photos in February for nearly $18 on eBay from a company that buys and sells historic photos. The company had bulk purchased the photos from the Herald.

“I couldn’t believe it. It was really overwhelming,” Tucker said of the photographs that brought her to tears. They now are a part of the memorabilia of D-Day and other battles that her father had served in during his military career.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the Allied forces’ invasion of France in World War II.

James Tucker — a leader in the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion — died in 1983 in Tucson, his home since the early 1970s. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

After the invasion, he took part in many other battles across Western Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge. He received five battle stars and a Bronze Star for his World War II service.

But Tucker and the men he led onto bloody Omaha Beach 70 years ago today will never be forgotten, said his daughter, who has collected many of their stories to include on a website she designed for the battalion. She is the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion’s historian, archivist and webmaster.

Tucker can recount her father’s stories about that June day that left thousands of Allied troops dead or wounded on the beaches of Normandy.

When 24-year-old Warrant Officer Tucker arrived on Omaha he “saw fires everywhere. A wrecked landing craft, still loaded with tanks, burned fiercely. Ammunition exploded. There was shellfire, noise, confusion ... bodies all around,” Jeannie Tucker remembers her father telling her.

As waves of soldiers and boats swept in from the sea, German gunners tore them apart.

Tucker was in charge of eight armored bulldozers tasked with clearing the beach of concrete pillars, deadly mine-tipped angle beams and logs, and steel cross-arms built as obstacles by the Germans. Under heavy fire, landing crafts blew up and soldiers drowned, their bodies washed up on the beach.

Her father said the engineers worked to clear mines and obstacles, and Tucker eventually was ordered to dig a temporary mass grave right on the beach. A trench was dug using a bulldozer and bodies were stacked like cordwood and covered with sand.

“I understand it was the first American cemetery in Europe World War II,” her father recalled.

“I was only 23 when my dad died. I did research about the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion, and I felt my dad when I met men he led onto the beaches,” she said, explaining that she met about 20 of his fellow soldiers at a reunion of the battalion in Niagara Falls in 2007.

“Most of them were in their 80s, and they gave me contact information for other soldiers, or their widows,” she said. She records their stories for their families and future generations.

“I do this from my heart because I think people should always, always remember and never forget their sacrifices,” Tucker said.

She was invited in March by the Army to Fort Carson, Colorado, to share the history of the 299th with the young soldiers who are serving in the reactivated battalion.

The website for the 299th that Tucker created has become a portal for the relatives of soldiers who served with her father. She helps families preserve the war stories of their beloved soldiers.

“I have a sense of purpose, and I understand much more the significance of what my father did after meeting soldiers who remembered him, and respected him as their leader,” said Tucker, who also shares D-Day and World War II history with museums, military organizations and international groups.

Visit Tucker’s website: 299thcombatengineers.com

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at cduarte@azstarnet.com or 573-4104.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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