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God bless you, Duke Flannagan
By: Carl Langley
web posted July 2, 2007
COLUMN – A few days ago I browsed through my hometown newspaper and came upon an obituary notice that left me stunned. It was a short piece about the death of a man I met many years ago, the kind of person who attracted others as easily as a magnet picks up iron filings.
Stanley Duke Flannagan was a man with a lot of bounce to his step, and an even greater bounce to his life as the passing years revealed. I regarded him as the ultimate adventurer, constantly in search of ways to do things differently.
I met Duke, as we all called him, in the early 1960s when I was a young editor for the Augusta newspapers. I had spent eight years as a beat reporter at the time. I was a graduate of the same journalism school as Duke, and I had polished my craft on the streets and byways of Aiken.
For me it was a wonderful journey, and I had landed a job in one of the greatest news towns of them all, even if it were a small place. Unlike Duke, I was a settled person, not filled with the desire to take on the challenges of a wider world.
Duke Flannagan, I found, had seen a lot of the world before I met him and he planned to see a lot more of it. Not yet 30 the year we met, Duke had served in the Navy, attended the University of South Carolina, held several jobs in newspapers, radio and television and was working for the Augusta Chronicle.
He was four years younger than me but his resume was a lot longer. Within four years after leaving the Navy and getting his journalism degree he had changed jobs frequently. He began as a reporter for The State newspaper and held jobs at WBBQ radio, WJBF-TV and the Chronicle.
Although he and I worked for the same newspapers, I seldom saw him but when I did it was an experience. He had big plans and he told me and everyone else about them. I knew then he wasn’t going to be around long.
Duke disappeared from my scope sometime around 1964 or 1965 and I wondered where he went. It took years for me to fill the empty pages of history, but then came the obituary and two telephone calls that located his mother, Mary Eakle, and his brother, Neel Flannagan. They had been within shouting distance all the years but I didn’t know it.
From Mary and Neel I learned that my long-ago friend was the ultimate adventurer. He left the newspaper business to enter training as a commercial airline pilot and earned his certification. But he graduated at the wrong time. The airlines were not hiring pilots and Duke was out on a limb.
But he didn’t stay there long. In a matter of weeks the Navy veteran talked his way into the U.S. Army and signed up with a guarantee he could go to helicopter school. He passed with high marks, was commissioned a warrant officer and flew away to Vietnam.
I find it not remarkable at all that Duke would take up the challenge of flying helicopters in a war zone. He was the right kind of man to stand up for his country. His mother and brother recall a man who was never afraid to challenge the unknown.
Duke went to Vietnam while thousands of cowardly rats his age were running for sanctuary across the Canadian border. They are the same skunks that Jimmy Carter, the most woeful president we ever had, gave pardons to in the final months of his presidency. A lot of them now hold big jobs in business and government but they remain silent about the Vietnam years
Duke, a co-worker and a friend in the few months I knew him, became one of the heroes of this tragic war. He was awarded two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars and a basketful of merit citations. He earned them by flying into the face of death many times.
“It’s a miracle he survived,” his mother recalled. “He was shot down twice.” She spoke of a mission on which Duke’s big Chinook helicopter was shot down in a jungle. An American scout plane flew over the wreckage and the pilot reported it would be a miracle if anyone survived.
But miracles do happen. Duke, although injured, led several of his passengers and crewmen to safety. It would not be the only time he survived being shot down. He had several narrow escapes on trips to pick up American troops who had been boxed in by the Viet Cong and appeared doomed.
“There was no fear factor in my brother,” said Neel. “He went in and saved a lot of people when it seemed there was no way anyone could survive.” Neel is an automotive instructor at Aiken Technical College and one of the many valuable volunteers who work for Molly Militia.
Mary and Neel are proud of the love and affection Duke showed for his family and all of those who knew him. He was the father of a son, Craig, who was stricken with spinal meningitis at the age of 18 months.
Craig’s illness cost him his hearing but a loving father and mother gave him the best. He was sent to a school for the hearing impaired in Washington. It was there he met his wife, also hearing impaired, and the two gave Duke two granddaughters.
Mary said Duke was proud of his son and daughter-in-law who succeeded in shaping productive lives despite their handicaps. Craig has a master’s degree in computer technology.
Neel said his brother was “perfectly healthy” when he suffered a tragic accident that led to his death. Duke was at Ft. Gordon’s Eisenhower Hospital for a routine physical examination when he tripped and fell down a flight of steps.
“He had gone there for a physical before leaving active duty, and he was preparing to leave when he fell down the steps,” said Neel. “They found him at the bottom of the steps and took him to the Medical College of Georgia. He was in a coma for two or three months, then he was wheelchair bound.”
The accident caused brain damage that affected his thought processes and his speech and prevented Duke from communicating with family members. “It was a long, sad journey,” Neel recalled. “He was a healthy man before his fall, and he didn’t have a scratch on him.”
I told Neel and Mary about my fondness for this fallen American hero that went back so many years. He was, in a very real way, one of those people you refer to “as one of a kind.” He was hyperactive in all that he did and he loved challenges. I guess that is the reason he had to go to flight school and go to Vietnam.
When America faced a deadly crossroads, Duke Flannagan volunteered to serve and he did it his way. Within a few days of this writing he will be buried in the Beaufort National Cemetery, a resting place for our real heroes.
I find it sad that while Duke will be buried in near anonymity, the accolades await for thousands of cowards who fled the field and for at least two whose passages someday will draw national attention.
The pseudo heroes are Bill Clinton, the slick talking lawyer who hid out in England during the Vietnam War, and became an American president, and Dick Cheney, who wormed his way into five draft deferments and is now our vice president.
These two are about the same age as Duke Flannagan. But there is a big difference. Duke took the fight to the ones who would enslave and murder others. He was a man of courage and conviction. I can’t say the same about the other two.
God bless you, Duke Flannagan.
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