By Kevin Wilson: PNT Managing Editor
Years before Tom “Mack” Tucker was working for the city of Portales in its parks and recreational areas, he was fighting for the United States in Vietnam.
More than 35 years after he finished five tours in Vietnam, Tucker was honored for his service with a Purple Heart and 13 other medals in a small ceremony at the Memorial Building in Portales.
U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. was there for the service as part of his duties as a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“This is one of the most enjoyable things I do,” Udall said of the ceremony. “There are men and women who are out there (as veterans), and they’ve been there for us.”
Udall said that in many cases, Tuesday’s included, family members or friends contact him regarding oversights in honors bestowed upon veterans like Tucker.
Part of his job with the committee is making sure those oversights are remedied, usually through small community ceremonies.
More than three decades after his service, Tucker received that ceremony in front of about 50 people, made up of mostly city employees and family members.
Tucker thanked his family for being at the event, and said the ceremony shouldn’t be just for him, but for others who didn’t make it back from Vietnam and other wars.
“It’s not about me,” Tucker said. “It’s important to never forget those people in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and those who are down in Iraq right now. Don’t ever forget them, especially those who gave all.”
Tucker served from 1961 to 1969, serving five tours in Vietnam. Tucker said he mainly served on swift boats throughout his time with the U.S. Navy. Tucker said the Purple Heart, which is given to those wounded during service, was given to him because of an injury caused by shrapnel.
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega knows Tucker mainly through his work with the city, and said Tucker represents Portales well in everything he does.
“Mack is part of our family,” Ortega said. “We see him every day and he works very hard for the city of Portales. A lot of times, these things get forgotten, and they should not be forgotten.”