From POW to International Agricultural Missionary, Harley H. Tuck Sr. Serves Country, World

Even while a prisoner of war at Stalag XVIIb during World War II, Washington State University alumnus thought about pursuing a career in agriculture.

“It’s 8 p.m. Just got back from a trip to the mess hall, got ½ canteen cup of applesauce + a hunk of bread + jam,” he wrote in a letter sent after he was released from the camp. “The only thing wrong with this grub here is that there isn’t enough fruit. Just wait till I get back home. If I can’t get enough fruit, I’ll plant bearing trees in the front yard…Oh, yes, if I get a discharge soon, I’ll head for the agriculture school in Pullman + take a course specializing in fruit raising + any other sideline like beef cattle hogs etc. that would come in handy. Under G.I. Bill of Rights, the government will pay tuition + expenses for a veterans education to the tune of $500 a year for tuition + school expenses, $50 a month for a single man’s living expenses. That is an opportunity not to miss.”

Harley TuckBorn and raised on a fruit ranch in Yakima, Tuck enlisted in the Army as a junior in high school. He was a radio operator/gunner on a bomber squadron stationed in Rattlesden, England. He flew 27 missions before being shot down in April 1944, where he was a prisoner until liberation in 1945.

After his discharge in 1946, he returned to finish his last year of high school, then moved to “that agriculture school in Pullman.” He earned his bachelor’s degree in horticulture in 1950 and went home to help his father operate their fruit business.

“We tried it for one year, but the way my dad was doing things was so old fashioned, I couldn’t get the things done that I knew would help,” Tuck remembered. He came back to WSU where he earned a degree in agricultural education in 1954.

“I enjoyed everything about my time at WSU,” he said. “I was on the dean’s list for two years, and some place in there I matured into an adult.”

After teaching ag education at Kittitas for six years, Tuck was ready for a change.

“I guess I got itchy feet,” he said. “I wanted to be an agricultural missionary and see some more of the world.” He finished seminary school two years later.

“I finally went overseas,” Tuck said. “I went to Thailand to train agricultural leaders, and I stayed there.”

His initials assignment was with the American Baptist mission, living in Chaing Mai, working with the hill tribes in the northern part of Thailand. Tuck taught courses in animal and plant agriculture there and helped introduce new crops to the hilly environment to improve both the diets and the income of the local residents. He was instrumental in introducing pure bred sheep from Australia both for the wool they could provide for warmer clothing, as well as for a protein supplement.

When funds for the missionary work waned, Tuck started doing the same kind of work with the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization until 1972, when he worked with FAXI in Afghanistan. There he trained truck drivers and mechanics for the Program of Agriculture Cooperative Credit in Afghanistan. What was supposed to be a six-year assignment was cut short by a government coup in 1973, so Tuck returned to Indonesia where he stayed until the late 1990s.

Tuck has been recognized on many levels for his service to his country and the world. In August 2003, he was recognized with four other veterans for his valor in World War II. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Prisoner of War Medal, the Air Medal, the Good Conduct, the WWII Honorable Service lapel button, the American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and the WWII Victory Medal. He received the WSU Alumni Achievement Award in 2004.

By Kathy Barnard