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home : latest news : latest news August 28, 2014

3/17/2014 6:00:00 AM
From WWII to Vietnam and beyond, Duncan lived adventure
Duncan lived a career worthy of a movie
Model maker Roy Forbes (left) and retired Master Chief Gunner’s Mate Jack Duncan look at a working model of PT 623. Duncan was assigned to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 5 in the Solomon Islands during the World War II South Pacific campaign.
Model maker Roy Forbes (left) and retired Master Chief Gunner’s Mate Jack Duncan look at a working model of PT 623. Duncan was assigned to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 5 in the Solomon Islands during the World War II South Pacific campaign.
Eve Hanna
Miner Staff Reporter

KINGMAN - The senior movie matinee was showing the 1945 American war film "They Were Expendable," when real-life war hero, retired Master Chief Gunner's Mate Jack Duncan and his wife, Marlene, drove from Lake Havasu City to watch actors Robert Montgomery and John Wayne playing PT boat skipper "Bud" Bulkely and Commander Kelly respectively - people Duncan knew during his days aboard a PT boat in the South Pacific during Word War II.

Although a work of fiction, the movie was based on actual events firmly imprinted in Duncan's memory. Following the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, joining the Navy was foremost on Duncan's mind and he enlisted shortly after graduating high school. He launched his military career with Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 5, as the torpedo man on PT 103 at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

Duncan plans to revisit the Solomon Islands in May on a military history tour with Valor Tours, Ltd. It's not his first visit back to now-historic battle sites. In 2009, he was one of a handful of surviving WWII vets who attended the 65th anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur's return to the island of Leyte, where Japanese forces and kamikaze pilots held Americans at bay until 1944.

Following the liberation of the Philippines, Duncan remained there assigned to the Philippine Sea Frontier as a Navy policeman in war-ravaged Manila.

Active retiree

For Duncan, who served 43 years in uniform before "retiring" to serve another 13 years "in and out of uniform," WWII was his "first rodeo" but not his last. He saw duty in the West Pacific as a Navy frogman - now known as Navy SEALs - and served aboard the battleship New Jersey during the Korean War.

Cuba isn't listed on Duncan's online bio among the dozens of places and countries that he served, but he admits to having been there in the 1960s. He changes the subject by saying that from 1972 to 1976, he was the only WWII PT boater to see action aboard Vietnam-era PTFs - "the 'F' was for fast," he said.

Duncan was called back to active duty for a fifth and final time in 1985 to apply his long experience in "special warfare" to fighting the War on Terror. Not one to elaborate, Duncan does admit to earning enough "fruit salad" to have "looked like a Russian general" and is proud to have earned "the gold pin of a Navy SEAL, the Combat Craft device and the badge of a Command Master Chief."

Duncan and Marlene - a decorated Master Class shot herself - haven't let retirement slow them down. They were Navy ROTC and Jr. ROTC rifle coaches for years and are still active as the Arizona State Junior co-directors for the Civilian Marksmanship Program, mentoring 60 junior ROTC rifle teams in three states.

The couple also serves as docents aboard the last remaining operational PT boat in the world - PT 658 docked in Portland, Ore. It was during a summer stint as docents that the couple met Roy Forbes, a local history buff and model maker. One of the historically accurate, fully functioning model PT boats that Forbes has created is on display at the PT Boat National Museum aboard the Battleship Massachusetts.

"Meeting Jack, someone who rode the old 'mosquito boats' halfway around the world, it was such a thrill," Forbes said. "I asked if he'd come take a look at my model and, ya know, he couldn't tell it from a real boat!"

History's lesson

Duncan believes it's important for young people to learn American history and politics. Paraphrasing philosopher George Santayana's quote, "Those who don't remember the past are condemned to repeat it," he said. "We're not teaching the history of WWII. If they don't see it on the History Channel, they don't get it."

Not one to stand on the sidelines, Duncan found a way to help address the problem. He is active with the Joe Foss Institute, a nonprofit organization that recruits military veterans to visit classrooms to talk with students about their experiences, to inspire patriotism and to foster appreciation for the freedoms enjoyed in the U.S.

Duncan, who holds bachelor's degrees in history and geography and a master's degree in the military aspects of global geography, estimates that he has addressed more than 20,200 students, including those at Kingman Middle School and other area schools.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, March 17, 2014
Article comment by: V Stokes

What an amazing career. I thought I had a done a few things in mine...this just wow.

Posted: Monday, March 17, 2014
Article comment by: Rick O'Shea

A most excellent movie, good article.

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