Today’s blog post was written by guest author Tracie Manes, a student worker for Special Collections & Archives.
During the Korean War many men traveled overseas, unsure if they would return. One such man was Major Charles L. Duncan of Piedmont, MO. What was it like for Duncan to leave his home? What did he see and experience?
Duncan grew up in Belleview, MO and attended high school in Caledonia, graduating in 1940. Like many true-love stories Duncan and his future wife, Mary Ricketts, attended the same school and later married, on August 6, 1944. At the time of his marriage Duncan had served in the Marines for almost two years. During World War II, Duncan spent his time in Pensacola, Florida as an aerobatics instructor. He would later be recalled for active duty during the Korean War.
Charles and Mary Duncan’s first child, Sandy, was born on October 16, 1945. Not too long after Sandy’s birth, Steve, Duncan’s second child was born on June 11, 1949. Life would change for the family soon. War was overhead and Duncan was recalled to extended active duty on October 22, 1951.
Here is where the true story begins. Duncan wrote over 100 letters to his wife. Not only did he send letters home, he also sent many photographs. Being able to see images, read firsthand accounts, and experience life from Duncan’s perspective during his time serving in Korea and his travels to Japan is magnificent.
The letters and photographs offer an insight into how Duncan, not only lived, but how he worried about how things were going at home.
In one letter, sent August 8th, 1952, Duncan mentioned their Korean house boy:
“Our Korean house boy is taking my laundry home to his mother so maybe it will turn out better. The station laundry just soaks the dirt and color out of your clothes but don’t iron them. Kim, our house boy has been taking laundry home for the past week but he keeps telling us that his mother doesn’t want any pay and I am thinking that he is trying for a new bicycle.”
Duncan later went on to speak about purchasing a bike for Sandy:
“Speaking of bicycles, don’t you think we should get Sandy one now while it is still summer and she can use it a lot before winter comes.”
Being able to read through the letters and see how daily life kept moving forward in the midst of the war, is truly interesting. The letters hold heart, reading through them allows one to see the concern that Duncan had for his family. He mentioned later on in the same letter:
“What did you even do about a lawn mower? I hope you didn’t have to cut the grass with a razor blade or did the dry weather keep it from growing up?”
As the war continued, so did the letters and photographs that Duncan sent home. During the war, Duncan was a pilot and flew a Corsair. Duncan explained in a letter sent on September 11, 1952, his experience leading a squadron:
“I led a six plane division on a strike near Chinampo and after we had worked on the target for about a half hour I had just call the flight to get rid of all their ordnance and rendezvous on me and as I pulled up off of the target (17 junkes), a flight of four Migs jumped us. We had a short hassel with them but no one was hurt. Not even the Migs. We formed a battle line and when they tried to turn into us we would meet them head on and the Migs would break away. While all of this was going on, my out fit was heading for the water and we got low and ran under a low layer of clouds which ended the fight. The Mig is a very beautiful airplane. That was the first time this sqdn. has ever been jumped.”
One can continue to track Duncan’s time and experiences in the war through his letters and photographs. On October 2, 1953, Duncan was released from active duty and returned to Piedmont, MO.
Once Duncan returned home he started a career in the life insurance business. On September 17, 1962, Duncan’s family grew, his twin daughters Kim and Kay were born.
Throughout his life Duncan continued to fly. On January 1, 1963, he traveled to Russia, England, Belgium, Moscow, and Poland on a government sponsored agriculture tour; his flying experience and expertise served him well. Duncan continued to work and on January 1, 1970 he became a Missouri Real Estate Broker. Until his death on June 29, 1995, Duncan worked in the life insurance business.
There is so much more to Duncan’s story than what is mentioned here. What of his travels to Japan? What of the other letters, over 100 letters and only two were mentioned here! Looking at all of the items that surround Duncan it is interesting to see how one man was affected. It is a truly fantastic time in history to look into. With the information we have here, one could truly revisit the Korean War through the letters and images of Major Charles L. Duncan in Special Collections and Archives.