Iowa State University will honor Charleston, S.C., man killed in World War II

AMES, Iowa — A lifelong jokester and fun-loving person, Kennith Walker Tapscott also felt called to serve in Vietnam and took his military service seriously.

Tapscott was born Nov. 9, 1945, in Charleston, South Carolina. He came to Iowa State University in 1963 on a Navy ROTC scholarship.

The commanding officers could not have known the kind of habitual prankster they had just welcomed into their ranks. Cadet Tapscott stood in full uniform and in perfect formation at an official ROTC ceremony one day – with a baby turtle perched on top of his hat. The day of a naval combat training, Iowa State’s Navy ROTC arrived to find the large pools filled not with model ships but with goldfish, thanks, of course, to Tapscott.

His hijinks weren’t isolated to the Navy ROTC. Tapscott brought his pet raccoon to the back door of a sorority house one evening – and let it loose. Screams rang through the night.

Tapscott wasn’t just a prankster. He was a proud American and loved his family and friends deeply. As a boy, he joined the Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts. His fun-loving nature made him a popular boy with many friends, so many that they chauffeured him around town. Because of this, he decided to pursue a pilot’s license, which he earned before his driver’s license.

During Tapscott’s final semester at Iowa State, he fell in love with Jan Boyle. They married the following year, on June 1, 1968, and soon welcomed a baby, Katie.

A call to serve

In 1970, the United States was in the midst of the Vietnam War. The sight of anti-war protests upset Tapscott, so he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

Lt. Tapscott began his tour on June 3, 1970, as a member of the Riverboat Squadron. A month later, he participated in the counteroffensive launched by American and South Vietnamese forces. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam, backed by U.S. troops, tried to cut off the line of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that ran through Laos. This counteroffensive coincided with the measured withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam.

On Aug. 6, 1970, Tapscott was on patrol near Song Ong Doc in South Vietnam when his unit was ambushed, and he was killed.

In 1982, the National Park Service finished construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The names of the more than 58,000 service members killed in the war are engraved on the wall. Tapscott’s name appears on panel 8W, line 89. An estimated 3 million people pass by his name every year.