Kennith Tapscott - Lieutenant
When an ROTC officer makes a phone call to the parent of a cadet, the reason for the call could be numerous. Was the young man promoted? Did he receive an honor? Did he rank in the top of his class in a recent test of physical or mental aptitude? Or, did he earn the ire of his commanding officer because he decided to place a live turtle on his hat during an official ROTC ceremony? That was the reason for the phone call to the parents of habitual prankster Kennith Walker Tapscott, a member of Iowa State University’s Naval ROTC. Imagine for a moment the conversation that took place between this officer and Kennith’s father. The officer had to explain how Cadet Tapscott – in full uniform – stood in perfect formation with a small, baby turtle perched on the top of his hat. Ken was always up for a good laugh, and he held no misgivings for his antics, even if he risked being kicked out of the NROTC. Born on 9 November 1945, Kenny came to Iowa State from Charleston, South Carolina on an ROTC scholarship in 1963. His “turtle on the hat” gag was not the only hijinks he pulled while on campus. There was the time that the NROTC had a naval combat training. This required large pools filled with water in order to run mock battles with model ships. On the day of the training, the entire NRTOC found the pools filled with goldfish, compliments of Ken. He was not always using his antics to agitate his commanding officers. Kenny was the type of person who owned a pet racoon. One night he decided his nocturnal companion should get to know some of the sorority girls on campus. He carried the racoon to the backdoor of a sorority house, and let it go, which caused many of the female coeds to flee, screaming into the night.
Kenny’s whimsical nature was always a part of him, and so was his profound pride in America and love for family and friends. When he was a boy, Ken joined the Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts demonstrating that he understood the importance of sound discipline and developing leadership skills. Kenny’s light-hearted, and fun-loving nature undoubtedly contributed to his popularity. He had so many friends growing up that he never had to drive anywhere. His buddies were always offering to give him a lift. Since Kenny was always getting chauffeured by his friends, he decided to pursue a pilot’s license, which he earned before getting a driver’s license. There was a certain level of ambition combined with brilliance that Kenny exhibited when he realized his popularity could be used to test his skills as a pilot, and obtaining the license helped him to explore his potential. He was able to continue that journey at Iowa State University when he accepted the ROTC scholarship.
Of all the stories and escapades Ken compiled during his time in Ames, his favorite one most likely took place his final year on campus. One day, while in the Memorial Union cafeteria, Kenny witnessed a theft. A young woman named Jan Boyle stole his heart. Kenny and Jan started dating, they grew closer over the course of that final semester, and they got married on 1 June 1968. Jan learned that despite being a Political Science major, Ken really wanted to be a pediatrician because he loved working with children. When he found out that Jan was pregnant, he glowed with excitement and insisted the two of them go shopping for baby clothes. Ken loved the thought of being a father, and he also loved his country. In 1970, the United States was still fighting a war in Vietnam, and the sight of anti-war protests upset Kenny. He believed his country could use him, and he volunteered to fight in the war.
Lieutenant Tapscott started his tour on 3 June 1970 as a member of the Riverboat Squadron. He participated in the counteroffensive launched by American and South Vietnamese forces in July of 1970. The South Vietnamese Army – backed by U.S. troops – attempted to cut off the line of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that ran through Laos. The counteroffensive coincided with the measured withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. On 6 August 1970, Lieutenant Tapscott was out on a patrol near Song Ong Doc in South Vietnam when his unit was ambushed, and he was killed. The Vietnam War claimed over 58,000 American lives by the time it ended in 1975. The war was a contentious issue for that divided the country, but the process of healing after the war was important for everyone. In 1982, the National Parks Service completed construction of the Vietnam War Memorial. The names of every service member killed in the Vietnam War is engraved on the Wall. Lieutenant Kennith Tapscott’s name appears on panel 8W, line 89. An estimated three million people pass by his name every year as they visit the memorial.
Although the Vietnam War Memorial honors the brave men and women who gave their lives for their country, more important are the living memorials of each name on the Wall. The people who knew and loved the men and women whose names cover the Wall serve to remind us of their lives. Kennith’s spirit lives on in the memories he created with his sister Rita and twin brother Keith. It remains in the laughs he shared with Jan, and it lives on in the life of his daughter, Katie, and his grandchildren: Gage, Peyton, and Ella. Every time someone smiles remembering one of Ken’s antics, and in every tear shed for him, we are reminded of the happiness and joy he brought to so many people.
The day Kenny placed a turtle on his hat as a prank surely aroused laughter among his fellow cadets. But if we look closer at that moment, it reveals so much more about him and his life. Various cultures around the world have mythologized turtles in their folklore. They are seen as guardians of society. Turtles used their shells for protection, and turtle iconography is associated with those who defended what was important to them. Kennith volunteered to fight to protect the people he loved and safeguard the ideals of freedom he believed were important to America.