Thursday, February 14, 2013

Taking a Stand for Maryland's History

In St. Mary's County citizens are waging a campaign to honor a Maryland hero.  They are asking only that a new school be named for him.  So much of Maryland's proud history has been lost to the ages much as Captain Walter Duke, flying ace, was lost for so many decades in the Burmese jungle. I think it appropriate that we take a moment to pay tribute to one of our fallen Southern warriors.    The following was written by Maryland LS member G. P. Wigginton. 

A Maryland Fighting Man Comes Home

On 6 August 1921, in St. Mary's County, Maryland, Walter Francis Duke was born into an old Leonardtwon family.  With eight brothers and sisters, he grew up and became a popular, talented and sincere young man.  His father, "Colonel" Duke, and grandfather, Confederate veteran and Point Lookout POW John Francis Duke, were highly respected civic leaders in Leonardtown, and young Walter learned well from them, forming an intense martial spirit and sense of responsibility. 

Walter graduated from high school in May 1940 and left home shortly thereafter to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. He learned to fly, sharpened his skills, transferred to the United States Army Air Force in March of 1942, trained more in Alabama, and by spring of 1943 was in India. There, given new formidable Lockheed Lightning P-38 s, he became the leading ace not only of his unit, the 459th Fighter Squadron, but of the entire China-Burma-India theater. On 6 June 1944, now Captain Duke, returning from a mission, flew back over the Burma jungle to seek out a missing wingman. Walter found him, was satisfied that he was safe, and radioed, “Ok, I’m going home.” This was his last transmission; he was never seen again. It later transpired that a swarm of Japanese fighters pounced on him and that Walter turned into them and knocked three down before they got him. His Lightning crashed and was lost in the vast, almost impenetrable jungle.

In December of 2012 a timber crew, clearing the Burmese forest, found the old wreckage of an American fighter plane. In the cockpit were human remains. The authorities verified that the plane was the one flown by Captain Walter Duke, and DNA analysis confirmed that the pilot was definitely he. It seems that after two-thirds of a century Walter’s last words will be fulfilled: He’s coming home – and he’ll rest in the 18th century Catholic graveyard near his hometown rather than in some fetid, alien jungle.

He is still, we understand, Maryland’s leading ace. He was officially credited with ten air combat victories and that does not count the three he nailed in his last minutes of life. He also destroyed nine more planes on the ground. A combat report, with uncharacteristic levity, mentioned that Captain Duke scored another coup in that while fiercely strafing an enemy airfield, he managed to shoot up one hostile black sedan.

Some community leaders are requesting that a new school be named for Captain Duke. This is good. By rights there should be one so named already. He’s no more a hero now than he was twenty, thirty, or forty years ago. However, Captain Duke was a warrior, a local boy informed by true patriotism, and proud of his valiant grandfather. All this does not endear him to modernists, so that even though old St. Mary’s County never forgot him, many deracinated young Countians and “right thinking” new people have not even heard of him. But no matter, because whatever else may occur, his final homecoming will be attended by the comforting rites of his ancient church, the condign honors afforded him by the military, and the consoling knowledge that a Marylander will at last be where he belongs: interred with his ancestors in St. Mary’s County.

With apologies to Ennius for the necessary changes, I “quote” his apt aphorism:

Moribus antiquis res stetit Terra Mariae vetus virisque.

Roughly: On ancient codes and on real men stood old Maryland.