Donald W. Duncan
- This is about the American soldier and anti-war activist. For others, see Donald Duncan (disambiguation).
Master Sergeant Donald Walter "Don" Duncan (March 18, 1930 – March 25, 2009) was a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier who served during the Vietnam War, helping to establish the guerrilla infiltration force Project DELTA there. Following his return to the United States, Duncan became outspoken in his opposition to the war and became one of the leading public figures in opposition to the war. Duncan is best remembered as the military editor of the radical monthly magazine, Ramparts, during the Vietnam War and for his testimony to the 1967 Russell Tribunal detailing American war crimes in Vietnam.
Donald Walter Duncan, known to his friends as "Don," was born to Walter Cameron Duncan and Norma Duncan (nee Brooker) in Toronto on March 18, 1930, but was a US citizen. Duncan's father died when he was young, and his mother married Henry de Czanyi von Gerber, a naturalized American, cellist and orchestra conductor. Through the marriage Duncan gained a stepsister, Frances (later known as actress Mitzi Gaynor).
Duncan transferred to U.S. Army Special Forces (the "Green Berets") in the first part of 1961, where he continued to work in the field of operations and intelligence. During this interval Duncan received additional training in communications, weapons, and demolitions. Duncan served as an instructor at the United States Army Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina for a year and a half, teaching courses to Special Forces members on intelligence tactics and interrogation methods.
Duncan was deployed in Vietnam in March 1964, serving in a variety of capacities with the 5th Special Forces Group and Project DELTA, which he helped to organize. In addition to briefing and debriefing incoming and outgoing soldiers in the theater, Duncan directly participated in 8-member intelligence and "hunter-killer" teams.
As a result of his combat activity, Duncan was heavily decorated, receiving two Bronze Stars, the Air Medal, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star. He was additionally recommended for the Silver Star and the Legion of Merit as well as a field promotion to captain. Duncan was also tapped to help write the official history of U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam, spending the last 6 or 8 weeks of his tour engaged in this task.
Disillusioned with the military situation of the war, Duncan declined the offer of promotion and ended his military career, returning to America.
Back home in the United States, Duncan moved to Berkeley, California with his wife. There he became active in the anti-war movement and became a writer for Ramparts magazine, one of the leading publications of the New Left in America.
In the February 1966 issue of Ramparts, Duncan published a fierce critique of American participation in the war, entitled "The Whole Thing was a Lie!" In this article Duncan explained his opposition to the war by providing details on the American connection to the corrupt government of South Vietnam as well as atrocities in the American conduct of the war effort, including training in the use of torture in interrogations and the use of Vietnamese proxies for the summary execution of prisoners.
In 1967 Random House published a book written by Duncan entitled The New Legions which was sharply critical of the American military campaign in Vietnam.
Duncan also presented testimony on American war crimes in Vietnam to the Russell Tribunal in Roskilde, Denmark in November 1967, where he was one of the first three former American soldiers to testify. There he detailed a de facto class in torture techniques conducted for members of the Special Forces entitled "Counter-Measures to Hostile Interrogation."
Duncan settled in Indiana around 1980 and in 1990 founded a nonprofit group that provided services for the poor. Duncan died in a nursing home in Madison, Indiana, on March 25, 2009. His obituary appeared in The Madison Courier that month but it did not note his antiwar history. The New York Times ran an obituary in May 2016, after discovering while pursuing an advance obituary that Duncan had died seven years earlier. "If another news organization, particularly one with national reach, had run an obituary in 2009, we would have stood down, acknowledging that we had been napping back then and that it was way too late now to make up for the lapse," Times Obituary Editor William McDonald wrote.
A competitive daily newspaper isn't keen on reporting something that happened seven years ago. Unless, of course, virtually no one else had reported it. We decided to pursue the obituary, the seven years notwithstanding. The thinking was, we would have written about Mr. Duncan immediately after he died had we known, so we should apply the same standard now. His death, in a sense, was still news, and his story still deserved to be told. What's more, in an odd way, the very obscurity of his death added an unexpected, even poignant, element.
The Times obituary by Robert McFadden said Duncan
died in the obscurity of a small Midwestern town seven years ago, an all-but-forgotten soldier. He was 79. In an age of seeming information ubiquity, the news media will generally recall the lives of noteworthy people when they die. But Mr. Duncan's death went largely unnoticed outside of Madison, Ind., the Ohio River town where he lived.
- "Donald Duncan," Project Delta, www.projectdelta.net/
- McFadden, Robert (2016-05-06). "Donald W. Duncan, 79, Ex-Green Beret and Early Critic of Vietnam War, Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 December 2017.
- Donald Duncan, Testimony to the Russell Commission Archived July 17, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, November 1967, p. 272.
- Tod Ensign, "Organizing Veterans Through War Crimes Documentation," Citizen Soldier, www2.iath.virginia.edu/
- Anthony A. D' Amato, with Harvey L. Gould and Larry D. Woods, "War Crimes and Vietnam: The 'Nuremberg Defense' and the Military Service Resister," California Law Review, vol. 57, 1055 (1969) Code A69d; fn. 43, pp. 31–32.
- Donald W. Duncan, 79, Ex-Green Beret and Early Critic of Vietnam War, Is Dead; New York Times; Robert D. McFadden; May 6, 2016
- The New Legions. New York: Random House, 1967.
- "The Whole Thing Was a Lie!" Originally published in Ramparts, February 1966. Montana Heritage Project, www.montanaheritageproject.org/
- John Duffett (ed.), Against the Crime of Silence: Proceedings of the Russell International War Crimes Tribunal. New York: O'Hare Books, 1968.
- Angus MacKenzie, Secrets: The CIA's War at Home. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999.
- Gerald Nicosia, Home to War: A History of Vietnam Veterans' Movement. New York: Crown Publishers, 2001.