Tag Archives: 1942

Little Steve Sees “Japanese” Bombers

Philadelphia Defense Council Warden Badge, courtesy of Flying Tiger AntiquesIt was at two years old [1942] that I—and the rest of the family—we moved to Philadelphia area, Drexel Hill, 325 Riverview Avenue. That just sticks in my mind and Drexel Hill. We did that because Dad [Taylor] was in the navy.

In the First World War, he was a seaman. In the Second World War, he became an officer to the point where at the end of that war and in retirement, he was a captain level, which is the same as a colonel in the army, which is quite an honorable position.

Dad was a determined guy and a very much of an expert or—let me just say—a perfectionist. He was an accountant before the navy and after the navy and he taught at Bentley University, Bentley College, which now is a university.

In the navy, back to the navy, back in the Second World War, we were at this place in Drexel Hill. After the war—and I recall the VJ Day—and there were some things that were outstanding that I recall in Drexel Hill.

Because I have some very creative brothers, they taught me that Japanese planes were coming in to bomb us. The story had gotten around. They put me in a two-sided porch, two-windowed, windowed on two sides. All I could see was these Japanese planes coming down to bomb us during the blackout time.

Blackouts meant everybody had to turn out their lights in the whole city because they thought that—it was actually in relationship to Germany—because they thought the Germans would fly over and see the houses and see the outline of the houses on ultra—not ultraviolet, but red—infrared vision of the housing and would bomb. We’ll we didn’t know that and we had the blackouts anyway.

Dad, Taylor Albert Duncan Senior, he was one of the wardens, who went around the streets when he got home from the navy time, and he would insist that the city was blacked out. Of those around in his neighborhood, he was responsible. He would make sure that people had their lights out or you couldn’t see it in the houses with lights.

And so that is one of the very prominent memories that I have of the Second World War. I have other little memories, but that was a very outstanding one. I was for sure I could see these Japanese planes because, as I say, I have very creative brothers. They would tell me about all this was happening. It, of course, never did happen.

[325 Riverview Avenue, Drexel Hill, PA is correct. I’ve previously reported Grandma Duncan’s version, which was Riverview Cove. It is listed on the maps as Avenue.—dch]

story told by Steve to the family reunion gathering on January 10, 2014; recorded and transcribed by Dawn [Steve’s daughter]

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.)

  • What do you remember of the blackouts?
  • What stories have your folks told you about that period?
  • Do you recall Grandpa Taylor serving as an air raid warden? What can you tell us about it? Did he wear a special patch, badge, or uniform? Did he have to “report” houses that weren’t blacked out? How did he deal with enforcement?
  • Do you remember Steve sleeping on this porch? Do you recall him expressing fear? Do remember the “Japanese bombers” story? What can you tell us about it?
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Wally, a Bird, and Some Glue

Glass CasterWith so many men away [at war in 1942], 13-year-old Wally was offered the job as janitor in the little Baptist Church in Drexel Hill, where his dad was a deacon.

One Saturday, when Wally came in to clean, he heard a small bird fluttering above in the rafters. Wally took a castor from under the leg of a chair and used it as a shot-put to hit the bird. Each time he threw it, the bird fluttered to the other end of the ceiling. Then it happened. The glass castor hit the beautiful chandelier hanging from the ceiling.

He rode his bike to his friend’s house and asked him to come and help. He went home and got some airplane glue and rode back to the church. The two boys got banquet tables, which were stored, screwed in the legs made of pipe, and stacked them on top of each other to make a scaffold. With his friend holding on, Wally climbed up and glued the two pieces of the chandelier back together again.

Many years later, when we were in Philadelphia, Wally took me back to the church and we found it open. Sure enough, we could see the line of repair. I don’t know if anyone at the church ever found out.

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

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  • Do you remember this story? What other details can you add?
  • What was the name of the small Baptist church in Drexel Hill? Or was this Wayland Baptist Church in Meadville that the family attended briefly before moving (see Virginia Accepts the Lord)?

Hot Waters of Baptism

With so many men away [at war in 1942], 13-year-old Wally was offered the job as janitor in the little Baptist Church in Drexel Hill, where his dad was a deacon. 

coal fire water heaterBaptism in the Baptist Church was by immersion, in a big tub in the floor in front of the podium. It was usually covered by a removable section of flooring and covered with an oriental rug. On a Sunday when there was to be baptisms, Wally was told to go to the basement and get the coal fire started to heat up the water the day before. That he did.

The Sunday service was started. The pastor got up to preach. As he spoke from the podium, the corners of the oriental rug started to flutter with poof sounds that Wally would mimic and make us laugh at the telling.

One of the elder men in the church came up to Wally. “When did you turn off the heat, Wally?” he asked realizing that it was the steam from the baptismal underneath that was causing the rug to dance.

“No one told me to turn it off,” Wally replied. He ran down to the basement and turned off the furnace, but obviously there was not enough time for all that water to cool down.

The pastor had his fishing boots on, oblivious to the temperature of the water. As he prepared to do the baptisms, he read from his Bible. Starting to sweat beads of perspiration from the heat, he reached for one towel from the pile reserved for those getting baptized. Then he reached for another.

As the first lady entered, she gingerly dipped her toe into the too warm water.

I can only write from my imagination and from what Wally told me about that day, but those baptized came out a little pink and had more than a baptism of water.

written memories of Wally, contributed by Barbara (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?
  • What was the name of the small Baptist church in Drexel Hill? Or was this Wayland Baptist Church in Meadville that the family attended briefly before moving (see Virginia Accepts the Lord)?

 

Wally and Lee Decide to Follow Christ

Wally sneaked in the stage door of the Word of Life conference because he couldn’t get in the regular way. After the collection, the ushers brought the plates forward and put the plates in his hand. This may have taken place at Mechanics Hall in Boston.

Wally came to faith in his later teens.

excerpt from a Skype conversation between Steve and Dawn Harrell (Steve’s daughter), February 3, 2013

We were at Alden Union Church and Rev. William Allan Dean was the minister. That’s where I came to know the Lord in my teen years. I remember the place in the church where we sat. I didn’t go forward because we didn’t do that in those days. My faith grew in a slow progression throughout those years. There were certain times when we emphasized coming to know the Lord. Youth group met on Saturday night and I just grew in the Lord at that time. I graduated from Upper Darby High School in 1945.

Mother [Virginia] never had a real personal relationship until we went to Alden Union Church. She grew up Episcopal. The Bible study Wendell mentioned met on the sun porch; it had windows all around but it was closed in. There were maybe twenty to thirty women there.

Dad [Taylor] went to Alden Union because it was a Baptist church, but he never had a real close walk with God. He was definitely in favor of faithful church-going.

When Jack Wyrtzen was in Boston, we would go down to his campaign. Wally sneaked in back door because he didn’t get there on time. As he came in, they handed him the plates to take up the money. He passed the plates. I think I was looking for him. I got into the wrong area and then in to the men’s room. It was such a confusing place.

excerpt from a phone conversation between Lee and Dawn Harrell (Steve’s daughter), February 6, 2013

325 Riverview Cove, Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, ca. 1944--1945The first time we had any contact with the Duncans, we lived at 222 Stanley Avenue, in Menoa, Pennsylvania. I lived there with my family. We had five children. The Duncans lived not far away at 325 Riverview Cove, Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. We were sitting out on the front steps, and this lady with a baby carriage came by. That was Mrs. [Virginia] Duncan with Lee walking along. It was probably Bob [b. 1933] in the carriage. I can’t really remember how old I was but probably between four and eight years old [Wendell was born in 1928, so this was ca. 1932–1936]. I believe that’s how my mother met the Duncan family.

Next time I remember the Duncans, I was a teenager. My father said, “I’d like to take you to the church where they were having a Christmas program.” Lee Duncan played the part of Mary. It was a liberal Baptist church. We went to Aldan Union Church in Aldan, Pennsylvania and my father was interest in getting the Duncan family to come to Aldan Union. William Allan Dean was the pastor at Aldan Union. It was an independent denomination. The original church building still exists. They came.

My mother was part of the contact with the Duncans. She invited Mrs. [Virginia] Duncan to a women’s Bible study. It was taught by a lady at Aldan Union. She came. In fact if I remember correctly, they met in the Duncan home, a beautiful big home in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.

Lee Duncan, ca. high school, courtesy of Virginia GormanI think I was in high school. We were in youth group together at Aldan Union Church. Lee [b. 1927] was older than I. Wally [b. 1929] was younger. He was not in the youth group Lee and I were in.

excerpt  from a Skype conversation between Wendell Caley (longtime friend of the Duncan family) and Dawn Harrell (Steve’s daughter), January 29, 2013

When I visited him a few weeks ago [Fall 2006], Wally told me that he made a decision to accept Christ as a young teen, as did his sister, Lee. Their mother [Virginia] took notice of the “change” in their lives, explored the reason, and then made a decision to follow Christ herself. Grandpa [Wally] credits her strength of character and commitment to Christ as the reasons that the rest of the family took seriously the invitation to follow Christ. His mother taught the adult Sunday school class at Park Street Church in Boston for many years. So there is much in our heritage for which to be grateful.

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

Wally describes the one year anniversary of Pearl Harbor as the most wonderful day of his life. On December 7, 1942, Wally (age 13) accepted Jesus as his personal savior. It became the most defining moment of his life. He knew that he was a new creature, a child of God, never to be snatched out of His hands. He had gone to a Jack Wyrtzen [a founder of Word of Life Fellowship and inspiration for Youth for Christ] rally in Boston and at the end there was an altar call for those who wished to announce that they had personally accepted the grace offered at the cross. Wally was too embarrassed to go forward. He waited until the rally was over and the auditorium had cleared out. He went backstage and saw the evangelist packing up his briefcase.

“Mr. Wyrtzen,” he said. “I want to tell you that I have accepted Jesus into my heart as my savior.”

“That is wonderful, young man.” Mr. Wyrzten replied. He sat down and spoke with the young boy who realized he needed a savior. The two prayed together.

Wally was so excited; he told me he ran along the railroad tracks as fast as he could all the way home. He never lost the thrill of reliving that wonderful moment. He never doubted again that he wouldn’t see his Father in heaven one day and meet Jesus face to face. Indeed, when he died on November 7, 2006, he died with the blessed assurance that he was going to meet his savior.

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? I’d love to have a fuller telling of this movement in the family history. It seems pivotal.
  • This may come up in the interview with Grandma Virginia, but can anyone tell the story of her decision to know Christ on a deeper level?
  • Lee, do you recall this rally? Did you attend? Can you talk about your own experience of trusting Christ?
  • I have a family calendar that someone put together, which says, “Grandpa Taylor Duncan was in the Navy and was assigned in Philadelphia during WWII. Wally spent his freshman and senior years in Newton, Mass.; his sophomore and junior year of high school here [Drexel Hill].” Can anybody (Lee or Betty) talk further about those moves back and forth and their impact on the family? I guess the family lived in this house between 1944 and 1945. Can anyone confirm or modify this guess?
  • The house-photo I’ve included is a photo of a photo from the family calendar. Who put this calendar together? Are the photos in digital format? Can you send me to that link or email them to me? Thanks.

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?