MARION — Steve Duncan does not know the precise details about his father, Robert W. Duncan, first hearing news about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that occurred 72 years ago today.
Robert Duncan was a young 21-year-old man and just a regular guy, courting his high school sweetheart, Mary Evelyn Russell, and working at the family hardware store in Marion.
The news may have come over the radio. More likely, a store patron may have alerted the Duncans as to what had transpired in the South Pacific.
“Someone probably came into the store and said something,” Steve Duncan said.
Regardless of how the news arrived, Robert W. Duncan knew exactly what he was going to do. A month later, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and became one of the more famed Allied fighter pilots with his achievements of shooting down seven Japanese aircrafts during ensuing Pacific aerial combat.
One of his hits was taking out Warrant Officer Toshiyuki Sueda, a Japanese ace who had shot down nine American planes.
Duncan is also credited with destroying another six Japanese aircraft on the ground while strafing and flew more than 100 missions during World War II and the Korean War.
His achievement of becoming the first Squadron 5 pilot to become a fighter ace with the first carrier raid on Truk, the Japanese Pear Harbor, in 1944 have been documented and broadcasted on the History Channel.
His decorations included the Navy Cross, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, eight air medals and a presidential unit citation with five stars during a military career that spanned 24 years.
Duncan was not available for an interview with The Southern Illinoisan, but Steve Duncan shared information about his father.
“He wanted to do something for his country,” Steve Duncan said about his father’s immediate enlisting after Pearl Harbor. “He said he knew the war was coming. He wanted to help out with the effort.”
The Williamson County Board of Commissioners honored Duncan during an August meeting that included the unveiling of a 30-by-40 inch painting of the Fighting Squadron 5 in action by Marion artist Tom Hartwell and a plaque etched by Joe Hayes of Graph-ics Galore of Marion.
Steve Duncan said he, his father and other family members were grateful.
“It was more than we expected,” Steve Duncan said. “We just thought it would be a small gathering of people with an unveiling down in the building lobby. Instead, they (county commissioners) included us as part of their meeting.”