Duffey: “I’m Proud That I Served”
Fulton County native H. Lyle Duffey would have you believe he has lived his entire life between two points on the map – Big Cove Tannery and McConnellsburg. However, his voluntarily enlistment in the Army Air Corps in 1942 would take the area man across the nation as he trained fellow airmen on gunner tactics that would not only save their own lives but advance the Allied Forces movement in World War II.
Born to Herbert A. and Mary Jane (Johnston) Duffey, Lyle would spend his early years in Websters Mill, which is denoted for historical purposes along Great Cove Road as Hunters Mill. Unfortunately, at the age of four, Lyle and his mother would make the move to McConnellsburg alone shortly after the untimely passing of his father.
Lyle and his mother quickly took up residence in an apartment at the site of the former Fulton County Library on Market Street. The home’s neighboring apartment was occupied by an elderly aunt. Even though he may have been “slightly spoiled” being the only child in the family, Lyle was no stranger to hard times growing up in the 1920s.
“In McConnellsburg you were self-sufficient,” Duffey told the “News” from his 1408 Mountain Ridge Road, Big Cove Tannery, home. “Town had all you wanted, unless you wanted something fancy like a dress. Then you had to take a one-day trip to Chambersburg.”
Thinking back to the Depression, Lyle said he learned firsthand what it truly meant to watch your every dime, nickel and penny. On one occasion, he was sent to the store with a dime to purchase a gallon of kerosene. The penny in change must have been burning a hole in his pocket, because Lyle would walk to a neighboring store where he bought two suckers from among the penny candy display. He said his mother didn’t begrudge him the candy purchase but gently reminded him the family literally had to watch their every penny.
“Pennies meant something back then,” said Duffey, who years later would put his common sense and head for numbers to good use as the head of The First National Bank in McConnellsburg.
Fast forward to October 31, 1942, Lyle enlisted with the Army Air Corps. Saying enlistment “seemed like the right thing to do” at the time, Lyle was sent to Miami Beach, Fla., the following February for basic training.
“We did drills, drills and more drills,” Duffey stated of the basic training that also consisted of gas attack training and first aid. “The purpose was to adapt you to the military’s regimented life-style.”
Due to the military underestimating the losses sustained by the Air Corps, the shortage of available officers soon became evident. Lyle had already signed up for officer training and would literally be a shoo-in with the 2-1/2 years he had under his belt at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa.
Scheduled to meet up with a college training detachment, Lyle and two other men were detained for four days on the beach where they were left alone to fend for themselves. The trio would eventually be sent by train with their packet of orders to St. Johns University located in Collegeville, Minn. There, they joined a contingent of 297 cadets from California that included actor, screenwriter and producer Jack Webb, who is known for his role as Sgt. Joe Friday in “Dragnet.”
“Three men got ill and were hospitalized. We were their replacements,” Duffey said. “The purpose was they wanted us to obtain additional educational training. I already had a foot up with my time at Westminster.”
His time at St. Johns was- n’t always about books though. The officers in training spent their downtime in a variety of activities, including producing a mini version of “Hells- A-Poppin,” under Webb’s direction. Lyle, coincidentally, would pull out his ever-present gas mask, don his long johns and lurk the aisles of the show as a “ghost” man. The show was a hit, even at a women’s university, where Lyle maybe felt a little underdressed for the occasion.
Lyle also gave his time toward the Army Air Corps band where he proudly played the trombone. On Saturdays while fellow cadets marched the grounds, Lyle would observe from his position in the band.
His top rankings and quick mind would serve him well again as, over two months later, Lyle would be called to fill in for a classmate with a broken leg. His instructions were to learn to fly a Piper Cub within one week.
This time, the adventure was slated to take him to Santa Anna, Calif., for classification that would further determine whether his role would be as bombardier, navigator or pilot. However, with the preflight school overbooked, Lyle would again find himself changing course. He would chose to attend radio school in Illinois learning the ins and outs of Morris Code.
It was his height, and not his brains, that would eventually be called into question for the position of radioman by commanding officers. In turn, on Easter of 1944, Lyle would graduate from gunnery school in Texas. At gunnery school, Lyle spent the majority of his time on B24 bombers, which were heavy bombers used to drop bombs on the enemy extensively in the South Pacific. Guns were the only protection for the bombers that were manned by a nine-man crew consisting of pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, radioman/ gunner, two side gunners, tail gunner and ball turret gunner.
Scheduled to meet up with a crew in Salt Lake City, Lyle wound up staying onsite as a gunner instructor due to his education and top honors in the class. His military occupation specialty was to be gunner instructor. He would teach gunnery skills for approximately 1-1/2 years, instilling crucial knowledge that would save the life of more than one cadet.
“By then, the war in Europe was over, and we turned our sights on Japan,” said Duffey.
“When the war was finally over, I didn’t have enough points because I never went overseas.”
“I always had a sense of admiration for those who flew because I knew the perils,” he added.
His involvement in the military would not end until February 7, 1946.
“I have always felt a sense of guilt,” Duffey told the “News.” “The point I want to get across is that in the service you didn’t always get what you wanted. I never had control over being a stateside instructor.”
“I always wanted to fly and go overseas,” he said. “I’m proud that I served.” It comes down to going and doing what you’re told.”
Being in the states had its own perils and downfalls, although the nation’s people truly rallied and pitched in for the common purpose of winning the war, according to Duffey, who made reference to Rosie the Riveter, victory gardens, scrap drives and rationing.
“People who came through years of the Depression, they knew life was hard. If war was a part of that, we would all give what we could,” he stated.
Throughout his time away from Fulton County, Lyle continued to maintain a close relationship with Hustontown resident Dorothy “Dottie” Alloway. The two would marry while Lyle was still in the military and over a blissful 39-year marriage would raise sons Rick, Tom, John and Jim. Sadly, Dottie would succumb to cancer in 1983.
Initially upon his return, Lyle would be a member of the 5220 Club. The program provided unemployed veterans with $20 a week for 52 weeks. An unexpected discussion with a teller from the First National Bank would bring his unemployment to an end as he would work as a teller for two years before resuming his college education at Shippensburg.
With a new college degree in hand, Lyle spent one year at Green Hill and three years at McConnellsburg High School teaching math, science and chemistry.
First National Bank would come courting yet again with a better pay offer. He would never again leave First National.
Lyle worked his way up through the ranks serving as bank teller, executive vice president, president and board member. He officially stepped down from overseeing the inner workings of the bank in 1987 on his 65th birthday.
“I liked the personal contact with people. I’m a people person. I played a large role in the lending aspect of the bank,” said Lyle. Perhaps it was his love of people that would in turn draw him into a new career path. At the urging of God, Lyle answered the call to serve as a minister. He spent the next seven years as pastor of the Lemaster United Methodist Church.
Having made his mark on the military as well as the world of finances, Lyle now enjoys the solitude and everyday routine he has established with his wife of 15 years, Phyllis. He will turn 90 Saturday.