Jim Duncan's father, John, received the honor as Grand Marshal of the Port Washington Memorial Day Parade in 1988. At the time, Chief Duncan had served 49 years with the Port Fire Department.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars, #1819 of Port Washington has selected James B. Duncan to serve as co-Grand Marshal of this year's Memorial Day Parade. He brings to the designation an impressive background of military service, involvement in civic affairs and life in the Port community.
Duncan was born in Port Washington and attended the Main Street School. He went to Schreiber High School where he participated in baseball, soccer and football. After high school, he attended the State University at Farmingdale where he graduated with degrees in both electrical and mechanical technology. On graduation, he accepted a position with Fairchild Space and Defense Plant as a draftsman specializing in weapons systems.
At 6 a.m. October 5, 1966, Duncan was drafted into the United States Army. At 9:30 a.m. the same day, he was scheduled to be sworn in as a police officer with the Nassau County Police Department. The army took precedence and Duncan had to defer his appointment. He was processed at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn and received basic infantry training at Fort Gordon, GA. His military education continued at Fort Leonardwood in the cold Ozark Mountains of Missouri where he was trained in engineering, demolition and road construction. He successfully completed Officers' Candidate School at Fort Belvoir, VA, and was made 2nd lieutenant, graduating with a group of 26 successful candidates out of a class of 144. From Fort Belvoir, spent 10 months in Fort Campbell, KY, home of the 101st Airborne Division. He then shipped out to Vietnam, where he was to serve for 13 months.
In one of his first combat encounters, Lt. Duncan's unit came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades in the village of Phubai. Four men in his company were wounded including Duncan who suffered shrapnel wounds to his right arm. He carries particles of shrapnel from that attack to this day. After a hospital stay of 26 days, he was reassigned to active duty due to a shortage of officers and attached to the 101st Airborne.
In November 1968, a force of Viet Cong attacked Duncan's unit, assigned to the Ashau Valley at the base of Hamburger Hill. Eleven of 147 men in his company were killed. His most haunting moments in Vietnam were the sending of letters and personal property to family members of soldiers lost in action.
Duncan earned a promotion to captain and commanded Charlie Co., 27th Engineer Battalion, 45th Engineer Group. His duties included defusing land mines, demolition, and safeguarding unexploded bombs. The 27th Engineers Group was equipped with 57 Caterpillar bulldozers called D7's, which were equipped with arrow-like plows. In August 1969, Duncan was granted an honorable discharge from the Service. Among the recognition of his combat achievements, he received a Purple Heart, an Army Commendation, Vietnam Service Medal, Combat Service Medal, New York State Conspicuous Medal and several unit citations.
In June 1970, Duncan's deferred appointment was reactivated and he was immediately appointed as a police officer by virtue of being on the top of the civil service list. After a year on uniformed patrol in the 6th Precinct, he was assigned to the Marine Unit in Port Washington where he served for 21 years.
One of his most dangerous experiences was the rescue of a tugboat crew in Long Island Sound during a bitter winter snowstorm in February 1976. The tugboat had just been repaired when shortcomings in the repairs caused the boat to flood. As the stern broke apart, the tugboat, which was secured to Officer Duncan's police launch, began to sink and was taking the police launch down with it. A quick-thinking police officer immediately took an axe, chopped the rope attached to the sinking tug and saved the police crew. The crew of the tugboat went into the cold waters of Long Island Sound and the tugboat sank to the bottom. Officer Duncan and his crew quickly rescued all the two crewmen from the freezing waters.
After retiring in 1992 from the Police Department, Duncan devoted himself full time to a fire equipment business he started in 1969. Duncan soon opened a business known as Chief Fire & Safety on Main Street in Port. As business improved over the years, he moved the business to Haven Avenue where he employs tradesmen, service technicians, sales and administrative personnel.
Duncan's wholehearted participation in civic affairs is truly remarkable. He has been a member of the Elks Lodge # 1543, CancerCare and for five years has served as co-chair of the popular Pride-in-Port parade. He has been a member of Port's Chamber of Commerce for five years. In the field of public service he has served the past eight and 1/2 years as a commissioner of the Port Police District and has been active with the Flower Hill Hose Company of the Port Fire Department for 43 years where he served in all ranks including captain; he was president for 10 years.
In the Police District, he feels his greatest contribution has been the integration of the Department with the Port Community through open public meetings and budget evaluations. He has sponsored youth activities, the Child Safe Program, and other school-related programs. Commissioner Duncan has sponsored a number of technical innovations including the installation of mobile data terminals and defibrillators in all police vehicles. His budgetary concerns for the Port community led him to apply for and receive Federal sponsorship for the complex and costly training of police personnel.
Jim Duncan, reminiscing on 60 years in Port Washington, said, "One of the greatest benefits of Port is the atmosphere and amenities available to parents raising a family." Duncan married Elaine, his wife of 35 years, in St. Williams in Seaford, Long Island. Elaine has a bachelor's degree in teaching from Hofstra University and has taught for nine years at the Bethpage School District. The Duncan's are proud parents of three children all of whom attended Port schools. Their daughter Allison is an attorney in private practice who was appointed by the Governor of New York State to the Freshwater Wetlands Appeals board. Michele is an industrial psychologist and son, John, is studying to be a physician.
Duncan's late father, John A. Duncan, was a former chief of the Port Fire Department for six years and completed a total of 63 service years with them. Jim and his family remain very close to Jim's mother, Virginia, who has lived in Port for her 84 years.
An increasingly popular salute to our veterans and members of our armed forces since the Iraqi conflict is to say 'Thank you for your service to our country." This Memorial Day, parade viewers will have the opportunity to express publicly or privately their gratitude to Duncan with several additions to this popular expression by saying 'Thank you for your service to our country, our county and community."