“The thing to do” World War II veteran shares story of service as radio operator

Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944, John Duckett went on to serve as a radio operator with the 100th Infantry Division during World War II. Courtesy of John Duckett
Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944, John Duckett went on to serve as a radio operator with the 100th Infantry Division during World War II. Courtesy of John Duckett

During the first half of the 1940s, the draft notice was a document that many a young man anticipated receiving—a call to the colors that could possibly land them in the middle of a combat zone.

World War II veteran
World War II veteran John Duckett holds a case displaying the decorations he earned during his time in the service, including a Bronze Star and a Combat Infantry Badge. Courtesy of Jeremy P. Amick

For some, it was the source of great anxiety—consumed by the risk of losing their life on foreign soil—yet others were awestruck by the possibility of an adventure.

“I was anxious to go … I thought that it was the thing to do,” said John Duckett, 89, Jefferson City, Mo.

Born and raised in rural Williamsville, Mo., Duckett graduated from high school in 1943, going to work on his grandparents’ farm and briefly for the state highway department, the veteran recalled.

“My draft letter came and it was my turn to go,” he said.

In the span of the next several months, Duckett was minted a soldier in the U.S. Army after finishing bootcamp at Camp Fannin, Texas. From there, he reported to his new assignment with the 100th Infantry Division (ID), 397th Regiment at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

Though at his new location for only a few weeks, Duckett recollects the deadly threats he and his fellow soldiers faced while involved in training for war.

“We were out on training maneuvers one night and a bad storm came up on us,” he said. “Trees started falling all around us and two guys ended up getting killed.” He added, “I was lucky because I only got knocked down by a large limb.”

In early October 1944, Duckett’s regiment traveled to Camp Kilmer, N.J., boarding the troopship USAT George Washington (a converted ocean liner dating back to World War I) for their passage to France.

World War II veteran
Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944, John Duckett went on to serve as a radio operator with the 100th Infantry Division during World War II. Courtesy of John Duckett

Arriving overseas two weeks later, the regiment moved “to the front lines,” where Duckett was appointed as a radio operator in the regimental headquarters.

The following months quickly passed as the soldier relayed radio messages from troops engaged in combat activities to the regimental leadership. His responsibilities were not only of a static nature, but required him to remain mobile as the regiment followed the war throughout Europe.

“We were on the move all of the time,” he explained,  adding, “… France, Luxuembourg, Germany.”

But as Duckett humorously noted, some of his personal mobility during the war was the result of a calculated acquisition.

“Our sergeant decided that he wanted a motorcycle that belonged to an (military) outfit in the same town as us, so we pushed the motorcycle into the woods and waited until they moved out,” Duckett said.

“The sergeant ended up turning the motorcyle over (when riding) and decided that he didn’t want it, you see, so I ended up riding it all over France and Germany,” he grinned.

Duckett’s division was in Germany in May 1945, when the war in Europe ended, and despite having endured the war without any direct combat wounds, he would soon leave the warzone for a less lethal reason.

While assisting in the construction of recreational equipment following Germany’s surrender, Duckett forfeited the remainder of his time with the regiment when an accidental fall severely injured his arm and required his transfer to a hospital in Paris.

He was moved back to the states in late July 1944, and was discharged without ceremony three months later while convalescing at a military hospital at Camp Atterbury, Ind.

The veteran’s life reverted to a semblance of normalcy when he returned to Williamsville,  married his fiancée Kathleen, and in later years moved to Jefferson City because of his employment with the state highway department, from which he retired in 1987.

Reflecting on his service from decades past, Duckett noted, “When I got to Ft. Bragg the 100th (Infantry Division) was just getting ready to go overseas. Most of the folks I served with were from the eastern states and I really didn’t maintain contact with them.”

But more recently, the former soldier’s attendance at military reunions has helped reconnect him to several of the men with whom he served.

“Now I maintain contact with two or three of those I served with and every April we have a (regional) 100th ID reunion in Decatur, Ill.”

Duckett jokingly added that although the injury that sent him home from the war was the “best break I ever had,” the camraderie and perseverance he enountered during his time overseas have become a legacy he will never forget.

“I’ve always been really proud of having been part of the group and my service during the war.

“It is an experience that has stayed with me for a lifetime.”

Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.

Jeremy P. Ämick
Public Affairs Officer
Silver Star Families of America
Cell: (573) 230-7456

Jeremy Amick

Jeremy Amick is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE