Profile of Missing U.S. Soldier Tucker

A group linked to al-Qaida in Iraq claims it kidnapped two U.S. soldiers who disappeared during an attack on their checkpoint on Friday. As news about the two missing soldiers spread, their communities rallied in support. Kristian Foden-Vencil of Oregon Public Broadcasting traveled to the hometown of Pvt. First Class Thomas Tucker and has this report.

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The U.S. military says it cannot confirm claims by a group linked to al-Qaida in Iraq that it kidnapped two U.S. soldiers during an attack on their checkpoint. Privates First Class Kristian Menchaca, of Houston, Texas, and Thomas Tucker of Madras, Oregon disappeared on Friday.

As news about the two missing soldiers spread, their communities rallied in support. Kristian Foden-Vencil, of Oregon Public Broadcasting, traveled to Tuckers hometown.

KRISTIAN FODEN-VENCIL reporting:

Outside Madras, the snowy peak of Mount Jefferson in the distance and the smell of sagebrush let you know this is cowboy country. Wesley and Margaret Tucker, the parents of Private First Class Tom Tucker, adopted that tightlipped cowboy tradition when dealing with the press, saying that when they've had more time to think they'll be better prepared to speak.

But they did release a short written statement expressing gratitude to their community for its support, and saying that they're praying for Tom's safe return. They also released a recording of the last telephone message they received from him.

(Soundbite of telephone message)

Private First Class THOMAS TUCKER (United States Army): Hey, Momma. I love you. I love you, too, Dad. You guys be safe while I'm gone...

FODEN-VENCIL: In the scratchy tape, Tucker says he's proud to be defending his country. And he tells his sister and nephew that everything will be okay. The family describes Tucker as a piano player and a great lover of music. After graduating from Madras High School, he worked in construction and at the local Tiger Mart.

The family says he signed up for the Army because, quote, "he wanted to do something positive." Indeed, inside the local post office there's a picture frame labeled Hometown Heroes, that's hung with 29 pictures of people who've also signed up.

Around the corner is the Jefferson County Library where Debbie Lyons(ph) works part-time. She knows the Tucker family and went to classes with Tom's mother, Margaret.

Ms. DEBBIE LYONS: Your heart goes out to the family when you hear something like that, especially if it's a questioning thing. You know, if you hear someone that died, that's awful; but it's brings like a finality. This isn't. They're going to be, you know, out there searching and hopefully find him.

FODEN-VENCIL: She says that since the war has been going on for years now, it's easy to get wrapped up in every day life and all but forget what's going on overseas.

Ms. LYONS: Being a small community, it kind of brings the war that much closer, because we hear about people, you know, dying, or getting hurt, or getting killed. But when it's someone in a small community like this, people come together and support the family.

FODEN-VENCIL: As the day lengthened and people learned the news of Tom Tucker, more and more flags popped up. Yellow ribbons began to sprout on trees, and the main street billboards expressed their support for Tucker and his family. Further down the street, Kent Wright(ph), the owner of Mail, Copies And More, took calls and watched as a customer made photocopies. He says this community has a way of gathering round when things go wrong.

Mr. KENT WRIGHT: I was very saddened to hear about the news, of course. I know that they're in a very dangerous situation over there. And being part of the military that - it kind of comes along with the grounds. So seeing what we see in the past of what al-Qaida's capable of with their hostages is very frightening of what could happen.

FODEN-VENCIL: Wright, who is also president of the local Lions Club, says they're working on placing flags that they usually reserve for holidays up and down the main street for every day that Tom Tucker remains missing.

For NPR News, I'm Kristian Foden-Vencil.

(Soundbite of music)

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