Willis Duncan was born in 1919. By the time of his death in 2010, Willis had served in WWII, worked for the postal service in South Dakota and farmed in the Humboldt Creek community. In 1939, Duncan married his first wife, Helen Roether. They were both 20 years old and for them, the next six years would be filled with war. While Willis moved with the army, often taking Helen with him, Helen journaled their experiences into a scrapbook. This scrapbook was found by a local Junction City couple and brought to the museum, where we are happy to care for this look at the local war experience.
In honor of Veterans’ Day, and men like Willis Duncan who served, we would like to share some of Helen’s memories from WWII.
“Willis entered the Army on April 6, 1942 at Ft. Riley, Kansas. He was accepted as an aviation cadet and given an indefinite furlough.
While waiting for his call to active duty he continued working as a clerk for Bolman’s wholesale grocery. He resigned from this job the first f July. He then went to work as a carpenter at Ft. Riley helping to build barracks.
He received his call to active duty on August 31, 1942. He reported at Ft Riley on this day, and at 2:00 P.M. boarded the train for Nashville Tennessee.
At Nashville he was given more mental and physical tests. Upon failure to pass the eye accommodation test he was made a Private in the ground force of the Army Air Corps.
I went to visit him the first of October and spent three weeks there before coming home. While I was there I stayed with Mrs. Mary Williams and her daughter Mary Ruth at 2014 Belmont. Bill [Willis] had met them at the Cadet Club and they were good to us. In fact, we wouldn’t have known what to do without them.
In November Bill became ill with pneumonia and spent two weeks in the hospital. He had as his nurse a refugee from Norway.
He was granted two weeks sick leave upon leaving the hospital and came home for his first visit since joining the Army.
He returned to Nashville after his two weeks were up with the expectation of being home for Xmas. But Willie was having a run of hard luck and spent Xmas in quarantine for the Measles, German Measles, During this time he made the remark that “Anyone who gets Measles ought to be tied to his mother’s apron strings.” The words were no more than out of his mouth than he was taken to the hospital with of all things the “Measles.”
In February he came home on 10 days furlough…after his furlough he sent home the following pictures for me to keep. He also sent back the card I sent him for Xmas, and asked that it be saved too. Willie is now the proud Corporal.”
Helen documented Willis’ war experience throughout the remainder of the war and beyond. Following WWII, Willis was transferred to Alaska then Rapid City, South Dakota. Helen’s stories included the purchase of their first car:
“On April 5, 1947 I bought our first new car. It was a 4-door, green Kaiser and really some boat. Richard said he bet Uncle Bill would come home for sure when he found out we had a new car, well he wasn’t wrong because on April 20th Bill came home from Alaska. He had a 15-day furlough so we didn’t leave for our new station until May 1st and we arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota, May 3rd. We didn’t have a place to live except one room…but we had each other…so who cares!”
The Geary County Historical Society loves receiving personal memoires like Willis and Helen Duncan’s. If you have a story you would like to share about your time in the military, or any other significant moment in your life, please contact the museum 785-238-1666.