|Pilot Captain Walter F. Duke, O-790505 (MIA / KIA) Leonardtown, MD
Crashed June 6, 1944 at 8:00am
Duke was born in Leonardtown, Maryland. During July 1941, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) where he completed primary and intermediate flight training. During May 1942, he was discharged from the RCAF and joined the USAAF where he completed his flight training and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. He was promoted to Captain during March 1944.
He was officially credited with seven victories. Wartime sources state he claimed 10 confirmed "kills", 8 probables, 13 damaged plus several destroyed or damaged on the ground. He earned the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart (posthumously).
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank, California. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.
Assigned to the 10th Air Force, 80th Fighter Group "Burma Banshees", 459th Fighter Squadron "Twin Dragons". Assigned to pilot Captain Walter F. Duke. Nicknamed "Miss V” on the nose after his wife, Verja Duke. When lost, engine V-1710-91 serial number 42-95291 and V-1710-89 serial number 42-31300. Weapon serial numbers: .50 caliber machine guns serial number 397487, 406831, 406909, 406877 and Oldsmobile 20mm cannon serial number 119824.
On June 6, 1944 one of seven P-38s that took off from Chittagong Airfield piloted by Captain Walter F. Duke on a fighter sweep and strafing mission against Meiktila in Burma. The formation was led by led by Captain William "B-Foot" Broadfoot, executive officer of the squadron. Duke and his wingman, 2nd Lt. William G. Baumeister, Jr. flew top cover, descending to 12,000' as they reached the target area. Weather was ceiling and visibility unlimited (CAVU) on the Burma side of the Chin Mountains.
Approaching the target, the formation was intercepted from above by Oscars and Zeros [sic] without enough fuel to dog fight, the P-38s attempted to shake off the attackers and return to base. P-38H 42-67001 piloted by 1st. Lt. Burdett Goodrich was damaged and force landed in enemy territory.
Returning, Duke and Baumeister were jumped by two Ki-43 Oscars from 11 o'clock and above, one attacking at their level and the other split-S'ed. While turning into the first enemy fighter, wingman Baumeister had to break
away with the other Oscar on his tail and lost sight of Duke. After evading the Oscar, Baumeister was unable to locate Duke and spotted a P-38 that had crash landed (Goodrich's aircraft) and circled it until he ran low on fuel then turned back to base.
While returning, Baumeister received a radio call from Duke requesting his position, altitude and acknowledged he was returning to base low on fuel. Duke stated he was on the Burma side of the Chin Mountains at roughly Lat 21° 15' N Long 94° 50' E and was never heard from again. When Duke failed to return, he was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
After the mission, a pair of P-38s
piloted by 2nd Lt. James L. King and Lt. William M. Hehrns took off on a mission to strafe P-38H 42-67001 that force landed intact, then searched for Duke. After strafing the downed aircraft and destroying it, they did not find any trace of Duke or his aircraft.
In fact, this P-38 crashed in the jungle in Myanmar (Burma). During the 2000s, when the forest was being cleared, the aircraft was located and reported to the American authorities.
During December 2012, a team from the U.S. military visited the crash site and confirmed it to be a P-38 Lightning with numbers that matched Duke's aircraft.
Recovery of Remains
This crash site was visited by the U.S. military and remains recovered. Duke's sister, Eleanor Ann Fearns was contacted to provide a DNA sample to compare to the remains.
Duke was officially declared dead on February 8, 1946. He is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
After his loss, St. Mary’s County Regional Airport was renamed
Duke Field" in his honor but has since been renamed St. Mary’s County Regional Airport. The terminal building remains named in honor of Duke.
After his remains were identified in 2012, Duke was buried at old St. Aloysius Cemetery off Cemetery Road in Leonardtown, Maryland alongside his family.
During 2013, the Leonardtown, Maryland Veterans Day parade was dedicated to Duke, with some of his family in attendance. On October 8, 2013 during a groundbreaking ceremony attended by Duke's family, the new Leonardtown elementary school was named the "Captain Francis Duke Elementary School - Where Children Soar" after Duke that opened in 2015.
Duke's medals, awards and decorations were displayed St. Mary’s County Regional Airport then the the St. Mary’s County Historical Society and are now displayed at the Captain Francis Duke Elementary School.
Angela Hicks (sister of Duke)
Eleanor Ann Fearns (sister of Duke)
George Duke (brother of Duke)
USAF Air Force Historical Research Agency Aerial Victory Credits - Walter F. Duke
Missing Air Crew Report 5379 (MACR 5379)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) -
Walter F. Duke
FindAGrave - Capt Walter F "Wally" Duke (tablets of the missing photo)
Capt Walter Francis Duke (St. Aloysius Cemetery)
Southern Maryland News "Solving a WWII mystery" December 12, 2012
St. Mary's County "Captain Walter F. Duke"
University of Maryland Alumni Dinner "Walter Duke Bags Zeros"
"Capt. Walter Duke, University student in 1940-41, Maryland's No. 1 ace, downed two Japanese fighters recently, to bring his record of planes shot down to 14. The fighter which Captain Duke pilots in the Burma theater is named "Miss V" after his wife, Verja Duke. In writing about shooting down his twelfth plane, he told his wife that "the buck-tooth who put the first hole in my plane will never put a hole in anybody else's." Captain Duke joined the Royal Canadian Air Force before war broke out between Germany and the United States but transferred to the American Air Force before completing his training. He has been overseas since April, 1943, and received his captaincy in March of this year. The Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism has been awarded to Captain Duke.
CNN iReport "World War II Hero remains found" by tammsfa December 14, 2012
Leonardtown Beacon "Not Missing: WWII Hero, Captain Walter Duke" by Al Gough Fall 2013 pages 1-2, 7 [PDF]
Thanks to Phillip A. Fazzini for additional information
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June 29, 2019