Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

November 11, 2012

Veterans to get one big salute

Barry Porterfield
Pauls Valley Democrat — One big salute is on the way for military veterans with one special look back in particular for Pauls Valley students and the general public.

The special program in observation of Veterans Day is set for an 11 a.m. start Monday, Nov. 12 at the Pauls Valley High School auditorium.

Mary Johnson, the school’s counselor, teamed with Chad Chronister to put together a program not only meant to honor the service of America’s veterans but reveal the forgotten story of a PV grad whose actions made him a hero before he was killed in World War II.

That special story centers around John Roscoe Durkee Jr., a graduate of PVHS back in 1932.

Durkee enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 and served as a first lieutenant and the pilot of a U.S. observation and spotter plane.

He was killed in France a couple of months after the Allied invasion known as D-Day.

When she learned of Durkee’s story Johnson said it was obvious to her this is a story that needs to be told.

“It was kind of like he was almost forgotten,” Johnson said.

“When I found all this out I thought we should honor him,” she said. “I thought it was terrible and sad that nobody knew his story.

“So, I thought we ought to recognize him at this veterans’ program; say something to our students and let them know about this man. I thought it would be nice to honor him.”

Johnson found out about Durkee’s story when an author, Mary Anne Hanthorn, once contacted her looking for a picture of Durkee. As it turns out Durkee and Hanthorn’s father had served in the same unit during the war.

The search to find out more about Durkee wasn’t easy. With help from local historian Adrienne Grimmett and the public library more was learned, such as Durkee’s senior photo published in the Pauls Valley Democrat.

His school transcript showed Durkee not only was a PV graduate in 1932 but attended high school here all four years. He also played on the Panther football team.

Durkee’s father had once owned a grocery store on one of PV’s main streets at a site that’s now a vacant lot.

The story of Durkee’s death, as told to Johnson, starts with the day he once received a distress call from a fellow pilot as both took to the air behind enemy lines to scout out the movements of German soldiers in occupied France.

It was early August 1944 as Allied troops were flooding into France before eventually freeing the country from German occupation.

After the distress call the one pilot was forced to land his plane in a pasture because it had run out of gas. Durkee followed and landed his plane only yards away.

With both pilots on the ground Durkee had brought a can full of gas to get the other plane going and back to safe territory.

As it turned out the pasture was surrounded by a German encampment as enemy soldiers began firing at the two American soldiers.

The first pilot managed to get his plane up in the air and fly to safety, while Durkee wasn’t so lucky. Before he could get into his plane he was shot and killed by German soldiers near Evra, France.

Durkee was buried there in France, where he and a couple of soldiers in the French Resistance were together later honored for their service. Durkee was later posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star.

As for Monday’s program at PVHS, local veteran Bob Martin is expected to address the crowd.

“All veterans are invited to come to the program,” Johnson added.

“We honor all the veterans at this.”