Robert Kenneth Nuckols


Kenneth was 18 years old in this photo when he first enlisted.
I was born while he was serving in the Navy. I was born in Jan. 1946 and
he came home in April of 1946 at the age of 21. Five of my six brothers served
in the military. (From sister Judy)
November 11, 2010

A lifetime dedicated to service

From military to schools, Nuckols has helped others

By SUSAN TEBBEN Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — Kenneth Nuckols’ boat arrived before daylight in the rough waters of Normandy on a famous day in June of 1944.

He and 130 other naval soldiers stood on the USS LST 49, a 300-foot land and sea vessel that was in the first wave of the invasion of the French beaches during World War II. As a signalman, Nuckols watched from a tall tower on the boat, checking for wounded and communicating through Morse code and flags to those bringing tanks and guns to the battle. Paratroopers were shot down like pigeons, Nuckols said.

The second and third waves came through and the LST 49 came up from behind to retrieve the injured and bring them back to England.

“I can’t explain it to you, what happened that day,” Nuckols said. “I’ve never seen fireworks like that.”

The soldiers, from states all over the U.S., including Arizona, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and two from Kentucky, made eight or nine trips across the English Channel during the effort. Several months after Normandy, the ship eventually traveled to southern France, the Mediterranean, through the Panama Canal and into the battle of Okinawa before Nuckols’ service ended in 1946. He had crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans with his fellow soldiers, avoiding German patrol torpedo boats sinking ships around them and Japanese kamikaze fighters throughout their time on the ship.

“I saw a kamikaze fighter shoot at another boat in front of us and the [ammunition] didn’t explode so he just flew right into the ship, right in front of us,” he said. “I mean, they were something else.”

The closest Nuckols came to being injured was when an ammunition shell exploded and the shrapnel spread across the ship’s deck, but he still stayed alert and wary of danger.

“When you lay down to sleep, you’d wonder where you were going to be the next morning, you just never knew,” he said.

Nuckols was a sophomore at Austin Tracy High School when the war began, but when he got out of the service, instead of getting a job, he decided he wanted to go back to school, when he was almost 21.

He finished his schooling at Austin Tracy and moved on to Western Kentucky University when he was 23, majoring in math. His experience in navigation, plotting stars to find the ship’s position, made him interested in taking on math as a career.

Nuckols went on to teach math at Barren County schools for 22 years and Allen County for five years. While he taught, he obtained various academic accomplishments, including his master’s degree and an administrator’s certificate. He used that certificate when he became principal at Scottsville High School shortly before it merged with Allen County.

He remained in the schools until 1983 when he retired from academics. Not to be thrown into  average retirement, he became a crop adjuster after another future teacher taught him how.

“I said ‘you teach me how to be a crop adjuster’ and you can have my job [at the school],” he said.

In October, Nuckols finished his 29th year as a crop adjuster and finally retired to his home in Barren County. He has a fresh mind about his experiences in the war, which is primarily how he remembers the war since his uniform was lost after the war. But his proudest memories are not all about being a soldier.

“I’m proud of my Navy experience, but I’m just as proud of my 33 years in education.”

He still keeps in touch with the surviving solders from the USS LST 49, with whom he performed his service to his country as a necessary duty. The ship celebrated its 23rd reunion in Pleasant Hill, Iowa, earlier this year. There are fewer than 30 still alive, but 10 of them were able to meet and discuss memories, including why they were devoted to their service.

“If we hadn’t won World War II, I don’t think you all would be here,” he said. “I still think it’s the greatest thing I’ve done in my life.”

When he thinks of the men and women of the current military, he gives them the same advice that drove him while he served his country.

“They can’t forget why they’re there, and it’s better that they be fighting them over there than to have [those with whom the U.S. is at war] over here fighting on our land,” he said.”


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