Russell T Duncan, MAJ USA (Ret.)
February 7, 1924 – December 3, 2021
Major Russell T. Duncan, USA Retired, passed away quietly in his La Vista, Nebraska home on December 3, 2021. Born February 7, 1924, in Robertson County, Kentucky, his long life included 42 years of service to the United States–22 years in the U.S. Army and 20 as a civilian with the Department of Defense for the U.S. Air Force.
Russell enlisted in the Army in early 1941 as an infantryman and completed initial entry training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. After the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s subsequent entry into WWII, Russell was assigned as an infantryman to the 149th Regiment, 38th Infantry Division. His unit was deployed to the Pacific Theater and eventually to the Philippine Islands in the campaign to retake that nation from the Imperial Japanese forces. After surviving several kamikaze attacks en route to the front, his unit was ordered to retake an airfield that had been attacked by a Japanese airborne regiment. Facing a well-dug-in and battle-hardened enemy, Russell’s battalion was ordered to cross a field in a frontal attack with little cover. Per Russell’s Silver Star citation:
“…his platoon was forced to withdraw in the face of a superior enemy force delivering automatic weapon fire upon them. P.F.C. Duncan remained with two wounded men located within 50 yards of the enemy’s position. Surviving a severe mortar barrage, he placed wounded men behind fallen logs and returned to his company for help. He organized and led a small rescue party to the wounded men and succeeded in evacuating them to safety.”
Russell was promoted and later earned a Purple Heart when wounded by an enemy sniper in April 1945. He went on to serve a lengthy career in the U.S. Army, eventually earning a commission as an officer and reaching the rank of Major. His service took him to several duty stations in the continental U.S., along with postings in France, Germany, and Korea. Additional decorations include the Bronze Star, Army Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, WWII Victory Medal, and WWII Pacific Campaign Medal with three battle stars (Leyte, Luzon, and New Guinea). Later, during his civilian career, he was presented the Award for Meritorious Civilian Service and the Air Force Distinguished Equal Opportunity Award for Supervisory Action—both bestowed by the Department of the Air Force.
Russ married Hazel Delano in 1947, their marriage spanning 67 years and numerous duty stations in the US, Europe and Central America. They retired in Phoenix, Arizona in 1987. A kind and gentle man, his homespun country charm and wit provided the framework for his many stories about growing up in rural Kentucky during the Great Depression and of his experiences traveling the world.
The cornerstone of his life was duty—to his country and his family. He loved reading history, particularly biographies of military and political leaders, Presidents, and First Ladies. His quiet, sweet nature drew many rescue animals to him, and his “catch, spay/neuter, release” program rarely resulted in a release. He moved back to Nebraska in 2021 and fell in love again with the beauty of the Midwest and his “new” granddaughters Crystal Sainato and Kristen Nelson.
Russell was preceded in death by his son, Tom; and wife, Hazel. He will live in the memories of his son, Michael and his wife, Dorothy, of Simpsonville, South Carolina; daughter, Nancy Nelson and her husband, Conrad, of Omaha, NE; son, Rusty of Phoenix, Arizona; grandchildren: Jessica Cance (Paul), John Sainato (Stefanie), Katy Lentz (Jamie), Joe Sainato (Crystal), Brandon Duncan, Cody Duncan and Austin Duncan; great-grandchildren: Patrick, Johnathan, Harrison, Henry, Julia, Elliot and Benjamin. The absence of his kind and grateful heart leaves this world a little less bright. Services will be held at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.