I was born smack in the middle of the baby boom and many of the fathers of my mates participated in that event. My dad didn't, he was a Korean War vet and neither did my uncles, they were all too young but my godfather did. He went ashore at Omaha Beach with a heavy machine gun strapped to his back.
In 2012 a four year research and writing project culminated with the publication of Gold Star Aces, volumes I & II.
Captain William Broadfoot was on the mission that day. After the Lightnings finished their runs on the airfields they were bounced. Captain Broadfoot described the events. “At the western edge of the airfield we were jumped by ‘many’ Oscars and Zeros. We had some ammunition but not enough gas to fight. The total effort was to shake them off and go home. 1 Lt. Goodrich was shot down at this time. When he was finally clear and headed over the mountains, Capt. W.F. Duke radioed that he was missing his wingman. 2 Lt. Baumeister Jr. that he had sufficient gas to make a circle back to make sure Baumeister wasn’t in trouble. Baumeister returned to base OK but Duke didn’t.”
In May 1945 after hostilities had ended in Burma, Duke’s squadron mate Captain Hampton Boggs visited Japanese air bases and interviewed Japanese pilots and intelligence officers. They reported that on 6 June 1944, A6M Zero fighters were waiting for Duke when he circled back. They bounced him and he surprised them by turning into them. In the ensuing dogfight he shot down three of them before he was finally shot down, this brought his unofficial score to thirteen. Captain Duke’s final official score was ten confirmed aerial victories eight probably destroyed, thirteen damaged.
Captain Duke’s crash site remained undiscovered for six decades. Wally was officially declared dead on 8 February 1946 and is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery in Manila, Philippines. It was after the turn of the 21st century, during deforestation in Myanmar (formerly Burma), that an American P-38 Lightning was discovered and reported to U.S. authorities. In December 2012 a team from the U.S. Army arrived at the crash site and found that the serial numbers matched Duke's aircraft. Walter's remains were recovered from the wreckage and his sister, Eleanor Ann Fearns provided a DNA swab for positive identification.
Captain Duke was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf clusters, Air Medal with two Oak Leaf clusters, Purple Heart, the Canadian War Medal (1939-1945) and the British Burma Star.
By coincidence the runways at the airport in Duke’s home county are numbered 11 and 29. Captain Duke’s last mission course was 110 degrees out and the reciprocal, 290 degrees back. Wally Duke is now buried in the family plot at old St. Aloysius Cemetery in Leonardtown, Maryland. It was a long journey home.