The Athens Veterans’ community has had to say goodbye to two of its most storied members, Theo Calvin and Billy Duncan. They passed within just a few weeks of each other, and both men embodied everything that makes American soldiers so legendary.
Theo was 92 when he passed, and served in France under General George Patton. He had to wait until he was 89, when, due to the hard work of Alabama Veterans’ Museum Director, Sandy Thompson, and others, he was surprised to finally receive the following medals:
• The Bronze Star, the 4th- highest award that can be awarded
• Combat Infantry Badge-given to enlisted soldiers or officers below the rank of colonel who personally fought in any ground war after December, 1941
• WWII Victory Medal- given to those who fought from Pearl Harbor until December 31, 1946
• Army of Occupation Medal with German clasp- for those who served during the Occupation of Germany after WWII
• Belgium Fourragere-Created by Prince Charles, Regent of the Kingdom of Belgium originally for those who were in the Belgium Army, but was also given at times to members of the US Army
He was chosen as the 2011 Grand Marshall for the Athens Veterans’ Day Parade, and was completely surprised when he was taken to the Limestone County Event Center for the pinning ceremony, conducted by Lt. Gen Richard Formica, and Mr. Denis Barbet, Consul General of France. Theo said he felt like a movie star that day. I would see him at Coffee Call every month, and then, just like that, one more of my father’s generation, aptly called The Greatest Generation, passed. How glad I am that at the end of his life he was given the honor he deserved. I hope the wait made it sweeter.
Command Sgt Major Billy Duncan was by anyone’s definition a warrior’s warrior. He enlisted just one day shy of his 17th birthday during the Korean War, served three tours in Vietnam, and became a Command Sgt Major, which is the highest rank an enlisted man can hold. His career was the stuff of legends. He made thousands of jumps as a paratrooper, and essentially put the “Air” in “Airborne.” Once, the Master Parachutist’s chute failed to open, and he landed in 3 feet of snow, breaking his back. He spent a full year in the hospital recovering from his injuries, and his back was never the same again. His awards and decorations included parachute wings from the US, England, France, Norway and Germany. His medals included the Bronze Star with eight oak leaf clusters and the V device for Valor, the Army Commendation Medal with V device and 3 oak leaf clusters, and the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters.
He was instrumental in the founding of the Alabama Veterans’ Museum, and the monthly Coffee Call was his brainchild. In 2014, CSM Duncan was the Grand Marshall for the Veterans’ Day Parade. I last stood beside him in line for refreshments at the reception held this year on Memorial Day at the Vets’ Museum. For the zillioneth time, I told myself I needed to sit down and listen to this man’s tales, and I missed my chance. I am content to wait, but when I see him again, I am not sure that Vietnam or having been a Vietnam protestor is going to be all that important to either of us. But, on this side, Theo’s and Billy’s valor have strengthened me and us, and it was my honor to make their acquaintance. Rest in peace, my dears.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner