Wally Goes to War

Merchant Marine Emblem[Virginia]: He was missing this morning. He had gone to school apparently. Instead of that, he made up his mind that he was going to go on adventure, so he got on this ship down at the dock. I didn’t know where he was. When it was time for him to come home from school, he didn’t come. Then I got this telephone message: “I’m down in South America” somewhere. I don’t know where he was, right over the border.

[Barb]: Well he was missing for a few days, before you knew where he was?

[Virginia]: No, the first day I didn’t know where he was. No. You know, he called me up and said, “I’m so far I can’t get to a telephone. Couldn’t get to a telephone before because they wouldn’t let us get off the boat.” When he got back on the boat, he said, “I’ve either got to make up my mind to go along with them and go over to Asia,” I guess it was, “or to come home.” I said, “Well, you better come home here and get home here fast!” because you know his father was all upset about it. Before you could say anything more much, he was home. He said, “You know, if I’d have gone, it would have been at least four months before I would ever have got home.”

[Barb]: He hadn’t even packed his bags?

[Virginia]: Oh, yeah, when they went over to. . . .

[Barb]: No, but, had he packed his bags?

[Virginia]: Oh, I don’t think they bothered packing much.

partial conversation between Virginia and Barbara Duncan (Wally’s wife) in the summer of 1987, courtesy of Barbara Duncan

Wally enlisted in the Navy at age 13 after lying about his age [ca. 1942]. Had his dad not been a Navy captain himself and gotten wind of it, he might have pulled it off. At the time, every self-respecting lad was itching to go fight the Huns and the Japs—even if they really were too young to be soldiers.

written memories of Wally, contributed by Jim Duncan (Wally’s son), on the occasion of Wally’s death, November 7, 2006

When [Wally] was about 13, he had this same determination and wanderlust. His father was in the Navy and was not home. World War II was raging and all patriotic, able-bodied men were joining the military. Serving their country was indeed an honor. It is hard to imagine, but Wally doctored up his birth certificate, making himself older than he was. He was large for his age and could pass for an older teen. He signed up for the Merchant Marines [an auxiliary of the Navy, responsible for transporting goods and services] and took off to see the world without telling anyone. He made it for the one trip to Central America before his father caught up with him and brought him back home. Somehow he never told the story with regret or even any sympathy for his parents. Adventurer he was!

written memories of Wally, contributed by Barbara Duncan (Wally’s wife), December 12, 2012

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.).

  • Do you remember this story? What other details can you add? For example, did he put into port anywhere? What were his rank and duties? What was the name of his ship? How did his father engineer the “capture”? How, if at all, was Wally punished?
  • What did Grandma have to say about Wally’s “escape”?
  • Lee, Betty, Steve, what were you doing in 1942?
  • Describe life at home when your dad was away in the Navy?
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One thought on “Wally Goes to War

  1. Brother Steve, last of the 8...of that generation

    It’s perhaps a genetic, perhaps connected to the XY chromosomes that the Duncan brothers dream big, imagine a lot, often term this vision but very frequently recognized as less than credible planning. I Steve 73 in 2013 speak of Wally going to war, Bob, correcting history as authoritative, Taylor Jr. covering the USA on the road and me revising government, the church structure and outreach in ecclesiastical policy making. I think that we perhaps get caught-up in personal aggrandizement and miss the bigger God-centered picture and purposes.
    The XY chromosomes are made from both genders and thus, I’m afraid that the default drive in our kids may have a tendency to be like their parents’. Yet there have been some successes…’what to do with them; who gets the credit?

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