CorpsStories Exclusive Interviews with Extraordinary Marines and Supporters
THE BIRTH OF CLINT McQUADE by Gene Duncan, USMC (Ret.)
Retired Marine Author Still Serving Through His Writing, Publishing and Speaking
(Interview conducted via the Internet, July 2002)
Major Gene Duncan is a renowned author of books about the Marine Corps. He served more than 29 years – including time enlisted and commissioned, active duty and reserve, before his retirement from the Corps in 1979. The Major served in Korea, was injured twice in Vietnam, and his billets included Russian linguist, cryptologic officer and section leader for 81mm mortars.
CorpsStories: Am I correct in your age of 70 years? Where were you raised?
Maj. Duncan: Yes, I am seventy. Born 3 November 1931. I was born and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida.
CorpsStories: How did you become a Marine?
Maj. Duncan: In early 1950 I was a student at a local junior college. I also worked as a doorman at a movie theater. I had been giving lots of thoughts to joining the military. I knew nothing about the USMC except that I wanted no part of sleeping in the mud and rain.
Early February 1950 two things happened: (1) I had talked to the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and they all had offered me incentives to join their services. They made me feel very important, so important that I came to believe that if I didn’t join their service, the entire defense establishment would come crashing to our feet. I didn’t realize I was that good! Then our movie theater showed John Wayne’s “Sands of Iwo Jima.” It started me to thinking that maybe I should check with the Marines, as they might just have something to offer me, this 19-year old selfish American boy, which would top the offers from the other services.
The Marine recruiter from Miami came to West Palm Beach one day each month. I determined when that day would be, and I went to the county courthouse on that day. I found the recruiter, Staff Sergeant Johns, in an old dusty office in the attic of the courthouse. As I walked in, he put his newspaper down and asked, “Can I help you?” I answered, “Yes, sergeant. I have checked with the other services and heard what they have to offer me. What does the Marine Corps have to offer me?” SSgt Johns looked sadly at me for a few seconds, and then he softly answered, “Son, the Marine Corps has nothing to offer you. What do you have to offer the Marine Corps?” Wow! That wasn’t supposed to happen. But when he made the statement that the Marine Corps had nothing to offer me, and asked the question, what did I have to offer the Marine Corps, he touched me somewhere deeply in my soul, an emotion I liked.
I asked him if I could sit and talk, and one week later I was at Parris Island as a recruit. What SSgt Johns did to me was to give me a priceless gift — the right mental set for being a Marine. And that is simply that I wasn’t in the Marine Corps to GET; I was in it to GIVE. From him, I learned unselfishness. I’ve never forgotten that.
CorpsStories: Did you write as an adolescent? I ask because it appears you are quite prolific. Did writing about other subjects lead you to writing intently about the Corps?
Maj. Duncan: I was a kid during WW II (10 years to 13years old). I used to write fiction stories about my made-up hero, Don Winslow of the Navy. I had him doing all kinds of heroic things in combat. There was a Don Winslow in a movie series at the time, so I adopted him as my hero. I don’t recall writing much after the war ended.
Once in the Marine Corps, particularly after I was commissioned, I would write various official memos, etc., and tried to stay away from the dry, staid manner of such official writings of the time. I didn’t get serious about writing until my last two years of active duty when a good friend of mine suggested we write a book of “sea stories” about our experiences in the Marine Corps.
Once I started, I couldn’t quit.
CorpsStories: You publish your own works, I understand. How did this come about?
Maj. Duncan: Yes, I publish my own books as a cottage industry. I co-authored the first book, “Green Side Out,” and Tom Moore (my co-author) and I began to collect lots of rejection slips from the publishers who informed us that we had a good book, but severely limited readership. Tom and I didn’t consider 29 million veterans to be “limited readership.”
I retired from the Marine Corps in June 1979. I went to work with a local printer in order to learn the ins and outs of typesetting, paste up, printing, etc. We still looked for a publisher. A former Marine, Lloyd Davidson, was a lawyer, working for a law-publishing firm in Clearwater, Florida. He talked the editor-in-chief into giving us a contract on the book. But the owner, an aging hippie, was highly incensed. But the contract was signed. They did the first publication of the book, but the owner wouldn’t allow them to promote it.
We got out of that contract, I bought an old beat-up A.B. Dick 360 press, and started my own publishing company. Eventually, and bit by bit, I equipped myself with everything I needed to do the whole job. I got the blank paper in the backdoor and delivered the finished product out the front — all in violation of city zoning codes. Time marched on, and I now publish 13 books.
CorpsStories: Tell me about the effect your Marine writings have had on you personally.
Maj. Duncan: The books have been well received by Marines. The writings have opened lots of doors to me. I am called upon to make many speeches, to give leadership lectures, to inspire Marines all over the country, and occasionally outside the country. I have received countless letters and phone calls from Marines and former Marines (and future Marines) telling me how my books inspired them, caused them to quit bitching and see the USMC in a new and better light. The books have not always been received by the higher ups (colonels and generals) as something worthy of the attention of Marines, but even they have come around. Always having avoided the higher ups, I can now claim friends among their ranks.
In short, my writings (and the responses) have caused me to truly believe that I am still doing something worthwhile for our Corps. My life has meaning.
CorpsStories: Who inspired your Marine career? It appears your devotion is multifaceted.
Maj. Duncan: During my 29 plus years of active and reserve duty with the Marine Corps I was inspired by a number of Marines. But they were not the seniors; they were the young Marines who did their jobs in spite of their frustrations, their fears, the privations they lived with. I’ve seen them do many wonderful, heroic things, and those were always an inspiration to me. From them I learned what real brotherhood is, what the true meaning of “bond of brothers” is. From them I learned — and gained — honor, and a continued humility. They are my real heroes.
In a retired status I find myself still being inspired by Marines I knew on active duty, but mostly whom I met since retirement. To name but a few: Major General O. K. Steele, Major General Jarvis Lynch, Sergeant Major Dave Sommers, Sergeant Major Strylecki, Captain Tom Moore (my best friend), Sergeant Rickards, Gunnery Sergeant Brent Graham, First Sergeant Don Cozine, former Staff Sergeant Patrick Huge, Lance Corporals Reynolds and Walter (who, under intense enemy fire, pulled my dying carcass out of a rice paddie, in spite of the fact that I had physically abused Walter when I caught him asleep on watch), Midshipman (now Major) Ben T. Edwards, Lieutenant Colonel Chase. They, too, are my heroes.
CorpsStories: Your biography depicts such vast skills I’ve wondered if there was a highlight in your service either enlisted or commissioned.
Maj. Duncan: I loved being a Marine. I thought of every day as a “highlight.” I hated to go to bed at night, afraid I’d miss something which provided the joys of being a Marine.
CorpsStories: Tell me about being “retired”, and the effect the Corps has had and will continue to have on your life.
Maj. Duncan: I made no real effort to adjust to civilian life. At first, I figured that if I were to survive in this jungle of “refugees,” I would need to make some effort. But my efforts were futile, so I decided that being a Marine does something to one which causes him to never go back to being a civilian. For 29 years I lived with honor, with honorable men and women, with Americans who would willingly give their lives for you, and me for them. I can’t find that on the outside.
In retirement I am constantly looking for those boys whom I think would make good Marines. I don’t push them into the recruiting office – I don’t have to; they like talking to this old warhorse and dreaming their dreams. I look for kids who are hearing that muffled drum and muted bugle in the back of their minds, who look around them and seem to realize there must be something better in life. Without even being able to define honor, courage, integrity, devotion, dedication, they seem to be pulled by those unknown forces to a life living those traits. I try to help them along the way.
CorpsStories: What do you see yourself writing about in the future?
Maj. Duncan: I have been sitting on my dead ass for far too long when it comes to writing. I plan another book of sea stores (mostly from others). I have two fiction novels out — one a sequel to the other — and I plan a third.
CorpsStories: Thank you very much, Major, for this opportunity.
Maj. Duncan: Semper Fi.
Editors Note: Special thanks to Lt. Col. John Monahan for his invaluable contribution to this story.