ANDERSON — Emmett Tucker Jr. doesn’t get many birthday cards from old Army buddies. And even if boot-camp groups staged frequent reunions, he figures he’d never get invited.
Tucker served 26 years in the U.S. Army. His daily routine was direct and confrontational: nose-to-nose, with voice raised and threatening eyes glaring.
In the 1960s, when his fuzzy-cheeked students were typically on their way to combat assignments in southeast Asia, Tucker felt that anything less imposing might not properly prepare the recruit. A tour of duty in Vietnam had the potential to be mentally and physically exhausting, and Tucker wanted his platoons to be prepared; their lives might depend on it.
A half-century later, he has no regrets.
“I felt like I was one heck of a drill sergeant,” said Tucker, who has three Outstanding Drill Sergeant awards, and thousands of hours of drill experience, to support the claim.
None of the awards came because he was soft on his pupils.
“I wasn’t there to hold hands with ‘em,” Tucker said.
With a relatively short training period and much information to convey, Tucker had little time, or inclination, to forge friendships. His job was to make lives longer in Vietnam by making them miserable at basic training. Casualty rates in Vietnam demanded that approach.
“Compared to me, Sergeant Carter was a wuss,” Tucker said, referring to the well-known fictional Marine Corps drill sergeant of Gomer Pyle TV show fame in the 1960s. “I wasn’t there to be their friend – I was there to teach them how to survive.”
That was a daily motivation.
“I was always aware that most were going to southeast Asia. And I was confident that many would not come back,” Tucker said. “That bothered me. It was always on your mind.”
Tucker, who served as a drill sergeant at Fort Benning, Fort Bragg, Fort Gordon and Fort Jackson, says he was equally unkind to all his recruits.
“I treated them like dirt. A lot of them realized that I was interested foremost in their welfare. I think I had their respect,” Tucker said.
Even after that war ended, the fear of future wars made it difficult for Tucker to change gears.
“After Vietnam, I still pushed them just as hard. I never did lighten up,” Tucker said. “I trained them for war, even at times of peace.”
More than 20 years after the Vietnam War, Tucker continued to be involved in training by serving in the Army Reserves as an instructor to drill sergeants.
The training routine eventually molded his personal discipline. He was serving as a drill sergeant in 1977, five years after the Vietnam War ended, when a Bravo Company commander turned to Tucker and told him to take the new recruits out for a mile run.
A hundred yards into the order, Tucker realized he hadn’t been doing a lot of running of late.
“I was sucking wind.” recalls Tucker, 68 now and 31 at the time. “I made up my mind during that run that I was going to get myself in good shape. And I’ve been in shape ever since.”
Tucker’s stay-in-shape routine covers three miles each day. He apologizes that only the first mile is a full run; he jogs the last two miles.
, Tucker retired from the military in 1995. In retirement, he devotes time to his Harley-Davidson, gospel music and television news programs.
He also served 25 years as a constable, and helps the police auxiliary as a volunteer. He continues to serve his country as a member of the American Legion and a member of the Campbell Patriot Honor Guard.
“Emmett is one of a kind,” said longtime friend Harold Grant.
He remains a passionate patriot.
“I believe that if you’re enthused about what you’re doing,” Tucker said, “the people under you and around you will be inspired to do it better.