WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Herb Duncan served in the United States Navy from 1958 through 1962. But really, his service to our country and our veterans has never ended. From recording their stories on video to volunteering and raising funds for the Kansas Honor Flight program, Duncan has made it his mission to honor Kansas veterans.

Duncan was destined to serve in the Navy.

“Because my family is military, and they’re all Navy,” said Duncan. “My dad was on the U.S.S. Missouri battleship. He was there at the signing of the surrender (on Sept. 2, 1945).”

He enlisted and then completed basic training in San Diego.

“They literally break you down to the bare nuts and bolts of life, and then they build you up. They train you, and that training will stay with you. I still have it,” said Duncan.

After training stops in Texas and Oklahoma, Duncan was sent to Whiting Field, Florida, where the Wichita East grad worked on airplanes and played on Pensacola Beach.

Herb Duncan, Wing Leader (Courtesy: Herb Duncan)

“All these girls with those bikinis, and I fell in love 15 times before I could sneeze,” said Duncan with a smile.

Duncan was ordered to Naval Air Station Cubi Point in the Philippines, where he spent the next two-and-a-half years. 

“And we landed there, and that’s where I got my glimpse of what it must’ve been like back in World War II. How they liberated the Philippines one island at a time,” said Duncan.

The new batch of Americans immediately learned they weren’t in a tropical paradise. 

“Everything over there was meant to kill you. They had little bitty snakes. They called them bamboo snakes. And it goes from that long (about 18 inches) to 18 feet of snakes! And the monkeys. You could walk down the jungle trail, and one of our guys started throwing rocks at these monkeys. You know, the monkeys started throwing rocks back at us!” said Duncan.

Duncan spent most of his time at a fuel refilling station. 

“We were a support unit for the Vietnam effort,” said Duncan.

Herb Duncan with his grandson (Courtesy: Herb Duncan)

He remembers one Saturday in 1961 night when the sirens went off. 

“Over the loudspeaker systems … ‘All hands report to your duty stations! This is not a drill! This is not a drill! This is not a drill!’ And I saw landing lights coming in, and they would get closer and closer, and one of them would land. And he would taxi around to the end, come around to the high-speed fuel. We’d fill them up, and they’d get full of fuel,” explained Duncan. “They would taxi out. One would take off, and one would land. One would take off, and one would land. We did that for three straight days. That’s when Vietnam was just starting in.”

Duncan was never in combat. However, when he lies awake at night, he has flashbacks of a near miss on Cubi Point. He was driving a truck loaded with 5,000 pounds of aviation fuel towards a pier when the brakes failed. He narrowly avoided an aircraft carrier, turned right, and threaded the fuel truck between rows of armed fighter jets before coming to a stop on an embankment. 

That experience still triggers vivid nightmares. Duncan still struggles with PTSD and terrible headaches from being exposed to aviation fuel. 

“Our veterans deserve, especially our combat veterans, need so much respect, it’s just unreal. They paid the price. They’re still paying the price. You just can’t see it. It’s in their head,” said Duncan.

This is why Duncan works tirelessly to honor Kansas veterans. 

“When I saw my cousin’s name on the Vietnam Wall, and when I came back, I developed a saying, and it’s true. If you’re remembered, you’re never forgotten,” said Duncan.

Herb Duncan points out Roger E. Duncan (Courtesy: Herb Duncan)

Duncan was instrumental in getting the Kansas Honor Flight program off the ground in Sedgwick County with his volunteering and fundraising efforts. In the last 11 years, over 3,700 Kansas veterans have flown to Washington, D.C., at no cost, to visit their monuments.

If you want to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Jason Lamb at jason.lamb@ksn.com.