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Captain Walter F. Duke, USAAF

A black and white photo of Captain Walter F. Duke in full gear.
Captain Walter F. Duke

Walter was a St. Mary’s County resident, born and raised in Leonardtown. He was the son of "Colonel" Roland B. And Lillian D. Duke, both well known to County residents. In July 1941 he entered the Royal Canadian Air Force; the U.S. Army Air Corps would not accept him as he had no college degree. He completed his primary and intermediate flight training in Canada. In May 1942, after the United States had entered the war, he was discharged from the RCAF and joined the Army Air Corps. He completed his advanced flight training at Pierce Field, Dothan, Alabama. He graduated at the top of his class and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.

He was assigned to the 89th Squadron of the 80th Fighter Group in Long Island new York. There he flew P-47’s in preparation for assignment to the 8th Air Force. A change in plans placed him into P-40’s for assignment to the 10th Air Force in India. He arrived on station in Sadiya, Assam, India in September 1943. There he flew several non-combat missions; escorting cargo planes over the "Hump". In December 1943 he was transferred to the newly formed 459th Fighter Squadron which had been issued the new P-38 "Lightning's".

A Lockheed P-38J Lightning in flight.
A Lockheed P-38J Lightning

His first few months mostly consisted of uneventful bomber escorts into Burma. However, in March 1943 the Allies started a campaign to drive the Japanese Air Force out of Burma. The 459th "Twin Dragons" began a concentrated effort of fighter sweeps, bombing and napalm attacks on Japanese air bases in Burma. From 11 March to mid-May Captain Duke accumulated a score of 10 confirmed "kills", 8 probables, 13 damaged plus several destroyed or damaged on the ground. This total made him the leading "Ace" of the entire 10th Air Force. On 6 June 1944 while returning from a mission he could not account for his wing-man. He went back into the combat area to perform a search - was never heard from again and was reported Missing In Action.

After the war ended in Burma, in May 1945, intelligence revealed that on the 6th of June, Captain Duke was "jumped" by several Japanese KI-43 "Oscars". He was reported to have shot down three of them before he, himself, was shot down. These "kills" were never credited to him as there was no gun camera film or eyewitness accounts. Captain Duke was the recipient of the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross w/ 3 oak leaf clusters, Air Medal w/ 3 oak leaf clusters, Purple Heart, American Service Medal, American Defense Medal, Asiatic / Pacific Area Service Medal, Canadian War Medal (1939-1945) and the British Burma Star. Just as a matter of trivia: the runway at the County airport is designated as 11 and 29 (110 degrees and 290 degrees). Captain Duke’s last mission was 110 degrees out, 290 degrees return...

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NOTE: The above information was respectfully taken from a letter written to the Commissioners of St. Mary's County by Captain Walter Duke’s brother, George C. Duke, dated 22 April 1999.