Originally from Kansas, Duncan lived in Illinois and Texas before graduating from high school. He became interested in the Merchant Marines after hearing about his mother serving some Merchant Marines at the Fred Harvey House she worked at in Cleveland, Ohio.
In June 1943, he enlisted and went to Hoffman Island, New York. After registering for the draft, Duncan attended boot camp on Hoffman Island. One of Duncan’s most memorable moments from this time included training on the luxury yacht Vema, which a Norwegina shipping magnate’s wife donated to the Merchant Marines. On the yacht, Duncan learned lifeboat training and how to steer ships.
After boot camp, Duncan attended the Maritime Academy in King’s Point, New York, but did not qualify for naval training due to eye issues. Instead, he went to Sheep’s Head Bay in New York City to train as a purser. Pursers kept ship payrolls, worked ship stores and logged personal information for the U.S. Coast Guard. Duncan also trained as a pharmacist’s mate, working at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, to learn hands-on medical assistance and treatment.
In January 1944, Duncan went to Mobile, Alabama, to await a purser vacancy on a merchant ship. When his high school girlfriend notified him of a purser position open in Norfolk, Duncan returned to Virginia and joined the crew of the SS Carter Braxton, which carried ammunition across the Atlantic to Wales, Italy, France, Belgium, Algeria and Tunisia.
As a purser, Duncan oversaw shore leave, supply distribution and currency exchange for sailors while in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
Duncan was in Boston, Massachusetts, when the Germans surrendered in May 1945. However, the Merchant Marines continued to serve merchant ships after the German surrender until the Japanese surrender in August.
Duncan discharged from the Merchant Marines in April 1946 as a lieutenant junior grade. After leaving the service, he returned to Illinois to attend Bradley University. He later earned a degree in sales and founded an independent gas/appliance company, which he worked in until the 1950s.
Duncan later worked as a case worker and social worker. He also sold real estate in Florida and motor homes in California before settling in Hilltop Lakes, Texas.
We honor his service.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Sarah Concepcion
Graphic artist: Brett Blandford