Archive for Monday, May 27, 2013

On Memorial Day, young veteran wants fellow citizens to think about cost of war

May 27, 2013



Even uttered in his father’s voice, the word hit Johnathan Duncan like a brick wall on a brisk October day in 2005. 

The Kansas National Guard’s 161st Field Artillery, Duncan’s unit, had been called into service in Iraq.

“My first thought was, ‘I’m going to die,’” he said.

He would have to make good on his promise made as a 17-year-old looking to pay for college, when the second Iraq war was supposed to be a quick sequel to Operation Desert Storm.

“A lot of people said, ‘You could have gone to Canada,’” he said. “But I said I was going to do something, and just because I don’t agree with it, doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it.”

Iraq War veteran Johnathan Duncan, right, laughs with Michael Siroky, also an Iraq War veteran, as the two socialize with other vets on Thursday, May 24, 2013 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of the new Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 852 building at 1801 Massachusetts. Duncan, who says he has experienced bouts of post traumatic stress disorder since his service, says he finds comfort in being able to assist other veterans by being involved in veterans issues and service activities.

Iraq War veteran Johnathan Duncan, right, laughs with Michael Siroky, also an Iraq War veteran, as the two socialize with other vets on Thursday, May 24, 2013 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of the new Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 852 building at 1801 Massachusetts. Duncan, who says he has experienced bouts of post traumatic stress disorder since his service, says he finds comfort in being able to assist other veterans by being involved in veterans issues and service activities.

Service in Iraq

A year and a half later, Spc. Duncan rode in the back of a Humvee, manning an M240 machine gun. His job was to patrol near Convoy Support Center Scania, about 45 miles south of Baghdad.

“We would travel up and down the MSR (Major Supply Route), which is a four-lane highway, looking for IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” he said. “It was spotlighting and drinking all the Monster (energy drink) I could get my hands on so I wouldn’t die.”

Duncan said death had never left his mind, but at that point he had accepted the fact that he would die. “I was cool with that.”

It was a long way from taking business classes at Kansas University or growing up in Newton as a self-described “class clown.”

Militants fired Katyusha rockets at the Convoy Support Center. Duncan’s convoy of three Humvees rushed to respond, driving into a “textbook” ambush.

A chain of three IEDs exploded. Molten copper cut through the vehicle’s armor “like butter.”

The attack sent seven soldiers home from tour, one person missing a jaw, another a foot.

And it killed Duncan’s friend, Staff Sgt. David Berry, who was driving the Humvee in front of Duncan.

“After it was over I recounted all of their names, what happened to them and just said, ‘Why? Why did this have to happen? Why are we here?’”


Six years later, Duncan sits a world away in a Lawrence coffee shop. He’s wearing a Kansas City Monarchs baseball cap, a wool sweater and Adidas sneakers.

He bears no visible marks, but his easy-going smile vanishes when he recalls the event. He stops, wipes his glasses, then continues. 

It’s a scar; it’s always going to be there,” he says. “That should have been my truck.”

Pressing play

Duncan said he returned to Kansas from his tour of duty, lacking any sense of purpose or a feeling of belonging. He never agreed with the war and the disillusionment set in.

“People would thank me for protecting their freedom,” he said. “I didn’t protect anybody’s freedom. The only thing I was looking out for was the person on my right and the person on my left so I didn’t die.”

He would get panic attacks in public. At bars he would often almost end up in fights. Bouts of paranoia and anxiety haunted him. He said he had trouble adjusting to a civilian world he could no longer relate to.

”It was weird to press play on your life again when you thought it was over,” he said.

Duncan eventually sought psychological treatment as well as the company of veterans through the College Veterans Association and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The other combat veterans got it. They hated war like he did, the ugliness of it, the senselessness, he explained.

They drank together, talked together and shared their burdens. He recalled the night he took a loaded .45 caliber handgun away from another veteran suffering from a flashback.

“He told me, ‘I wouldn’t be alive today if it hadn’t been for you and the CVA.’ That resonated with me, and from that point on I was like, ‘I need to do this. Who else is going to do this?’”

Duncan now tries to help other veterans by being involved in veterans’ issues or through service activities. If he can help others, he said, he can make good on the life he never thought he would have.


Today Duncan, 27, works as a sales manager at Lawrence Sign Up. He graduated from KU with an English degree. He will take over as junior vice commander at the Lawrence VFW Post 852 in July.

He will spend a quiet Memorial Day at the VFW hall. He doesn’t begrudge anyone for going to the lake or enjoying the day off. He said he doesn’t expect any thanks for his service. But he does have one wish he wanted to pass on.

“What people don’t think about is the cost of war,” he said. “You have all of these war veterans who have just seen the most horrible things you can imagine. If you took some time to think about the weight that people who have served carry and continue to carry, that would be good enough for me. They carry it silently. And they carry it with dignity.”


Lawrence Morgan 4 years, 12 months ago

Yes, they carry it with dignity. But all the others who did not serve are getting their college educations, moving ahead. Veterans, however, have had very poor medical service (from the VA), and they've been very poorly served by the American public.

The Lawrence VFW did nothing for me when I came home after Vietnam, except scorn for me for my very being. I know many, many other veterans from Kansas who also felt their scorn when they came back from the Vietnam war, and were - basically - shunned.

I respect your efforts.

But the Lawrence VFW Post has a terrible position as far as its past history of Vietnam veterans and any care for them. They were completely uninterested when veterans, such as myself, came back and wanted the GI Bill to do things that mattered. They were entirely into the "war".

And they treated many veterans very badly because many veterans felt differently.

Thinking_Out_Loud 4 years, 12 months ago

Here's the thing, though, ksplains: if you want to change the culture of the Lawrence VFW so that it no longer treats returning veterans the way you were treated, you can be part of that solution. It sounds like Duncan is interested in creating a culture that would welcome, not treat badly, persons like yourself. He can't change it by himself. He needs support from people like you. So, help him and make Lawrence VFW a post that you can be proud of.

Ken Lassman 4 years, 12 months ago

Ksplains makes a good point: it wasn't just the public who shunned the Vietnam vet when they came home; the VFWs did not like what they saw going on in Vietnam either, for different reasons and they shunned the new vets as well. It took a whole new wave of pain and suffering for the veterans organizations to realize what they had done and to change their ways, at least part in due to those Vietnam vets who stuck it out and became part of the leadership.

Should we blame the WWII vets for shunning the Vietnam vets, or blame the Vietnam vets for walking away from the VFW? Seems to me they all suffered terribly already enough, and the blame game doesn't really help here, does it. Sounds like part of what Duncan is trying to express is that war hurts our country as much as it helps, it not moreso, and we should do everything in our power to develop alternatives.

BigAl 4 years, 12 months ago

I agree with kansasplains1 totally. I came home from Vietnam and was shunned by both the VFW and the American Legion in Western Kansas. I was flat out told that we weren't wanted in the Legion. I've learned to live my life by just going forward but I will never forget the treatment we Vietnam veterans received by both the military organizations and the public in general.

foggydew 4 years, 12 months ago

This war like all wars are brutal and senseless, foisted on young impressionable people by war profiteerers. These wars have nothing to do with "protecting our freedoms." That's just so much propaganda that idiots from each generation buys and incorporate into their values system. That's the point of the whole article, folks.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 4 years, 12 months ago

Thank You for Your Service to This Country and All it's Citizens, Jonathan.And Thank You to all Veterans posting or reading this today. Soldiers like you are what has made America Possible. I am a Veteran(Post Vietnam-Pre-1st Gulf War) but I never had to serve under the conditions you Served under. I Salute You.

Kontum1972 4 years, 12 months ago

My father never recognized my service in Vietnam...he told me to my face that Vietnam was not a War....WW2 was a War...he was upset because he never got shot. Gee ...getting shot is the last thing you want to happen too you. Who wants a bullet hole ? I came home in 1973...I have never been back to my parents home since then. I retired after 30 years of service. I tried the Legion and the VFW wasn't me....! I devoted my time to the Scouts with my son.

tomatogrower 4 years, 12 months ago

My father used to say; "We need those boys over there. There just aren't enough jobs to go around." I just couldn't believe that he was wanting to have my peers killed off for job security. I and many others were against the war, in part because it was politically wrong, but also because we wanted our friends and family to come home. Some people think it was only the "hippies" who disrespected the Vietnam Vets, but that was not true.

Kontum1972 4 years, 12 months ago

OBTW...if they had not gotten rid of Saddam...we would not be having this problem with Syria, Libya, Afghanistan,...etc...etc...Saddam was the control point. We killed the King!

jack22 4 years, 12 months ago

I agree with that Kontum1972, we made Iran stronger and disrupted the power balance in the other countries you mentioned. Bush was wrong, we were better off with Saddam in power.

gsxr600 4 years, 12 months ago

As someone in the Army I can verify Monster Energy drinks are consumed like water by most soldiers. Probably not the best idea in Iraq though.

tomatogrower 4 years, 12 months ago

We should always weigh the cost (money and otherwise) before we jump into a war. Maybe Afghanistan was necessary to break up the Taliban, because they had sheltered the real people who attacked the Towers on 9/11. But I don't see much use to any of the wars since WWII. Civil wars should only be settled in their own country. We shouldn't just jump into Syria. Look what happened when we jumped into Afghanistan in the 80's; we helped the Taliban gain control.

Unfortunately we have a lot of greedy people who make money from these wars, and now they don't even pay as much in taxes, especially when they hide their profits off shore. Then they will wave their flags, act all patriotic, but do nothing for the real cost - more young men and women changed forever. It really gripes me to see a support the troops bumper sticker on a car that also has a tea party anti-tax bumper sticker.

Mark Currie 4 years, 12 months ago

To all Vets, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE! I appreciate what you did, and you are all held in high esteem by me. To all Vietnam Vets, THANKS, I know many of you were treated poorly when you came home. That was a huge mistake on America's part. Not all of us disrespected you. I looked up to you & tried to learn from you as I was about a year or two too young, or I probably would have been there too. Again, Thank You.

daisycleo 4 years, 12 months ago

As we approached the weekend with Memorial Day coming up, I get the same feeling of resentment that I do every year. BBQ's and parties are the focus. Why not spend Memorial Day volunteering in some way to help veterans, helping them honor their friends and brothers who were lost? There are so many homeless veterans in Lawrence. Our family spends it that way every year. It's storming like crazy here right now. Most residents will stay inside and sulk because they can't have their big blowout. It turns my stomach.

md 4 years, 12 months ago

Beware of the " homeless vet " by the downtown barbershop. He makes lots of money. I and other vets have offered him help but he refuses it. I know of several vet programs for him. He has been offered transportation to register for them. He has told some of local workers how much he makes and it is more than they do. I am 100% disabled from the Vietnam war. I was also homless. I tried to help him.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 12 months ago

There are many people that claim to be veterans that were never in the military, and to me, he sounds like one of them.

Lawrence Morgan 4 years, 12 months ago

You will notice that this article is no longer on the front web page since all the comment appeared. It appears that the Journal-World doesn't like the comments of veterans, which doesn't surprise me at all.

How many veterans are there, by the way, on the Journal-World reporting staff?

Thomas Bryce Jr. 4 years, 12 months ago

What Type of Veteran?A veteran that has served during peace time or a Veteran that served in a time of war, but with no combat time or a Veteran that served during a War AND Saw Combat? I fit two of those descriptions but I am not considered a veteran by some other veterans because I had no idea what they went through. Hard to help people that don't want your help. Notice the Response from the "Thank You" posts.

Lawrence Morgan 4 years, 12 months ago

Please see my latest blog. It has a tremendous article, published yesterday evening in the New York Times, which you must see.

Please look at the comments, too.

I hope that Jonathan Duncan sees this article, as well as the VFW and many non-veterans as well.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.