Al Duffner of Hermann was recently recognized as the January Resident of the Month at the Mexico Missouri Veterans Home. He lived in Hermann for 90 years before going to the Veterans Home in October 2012.
Duffner was born in Hermann in 1922, the youngest of four children. He has two brothers and one sister. His dad passed away when he was six years old, so Al’s mom worked at the shoe factory to provide for the kids.
During childhood Duffner played baseball with his friends and was in boy scouts. He attended St. George Catholic School in Hermann. After his schooling, he took some night courses and mail order courses in business. He worked in the lumber business before joining the U.S. Navy.
Duffner served in the Navy from 1942-1946 during WWII. He took his basic training at the U.S. Naval Station in Great Lakes, Ill., and then completed his signal training at the Naval Training School at Butler University in Indianapolis, Ind. He was assigned to the Minesweeper, USS Strive (AM-117) and stayed on this ship for his entire Naval career. He was initially a Signalman for the flag and was promoted through the ranks to chief quartermaster.
As chief quartermaster he recorded the ship’s movements.
During the war he spent time in North Africa and participated in the invasion of Sicily, Italy and southern France. One of his most memorable moments was piloting his ship through several locks of the Panama Canal on their way to the Pacific. Then they fought in the Okinawa Invasion which was one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific.
After the Japanese surrendered and the war was over, Duffner and his shipmates were ready to return home, but they couldn’t. There were still thousands and thousands of underwater mines that would be a danger to future ships sailing near them, and the sailors had to stay and clean it up. Al’s ship started with sweeping the waters near Kagoshima Bay on the southern Japanese Island of Kyushu, so the U.S. Army 32nd Division Occupation Force could land there. That Army division had been planning to invade Kyushu, but now that the war had ended they were coming in for a peaceful landing.
While in Kagoshima Bay, Duffner and several other officers accepted an invitation for a visit to a Japanese vessel to celebrate the trust and peace now being created between the former enemies. They all took pictures commemorating the event. Al and his crew also worked with the Japanese Navy in clearing mines in the South China Sea and the Bungo Channel, which was the main shipping channel to the inland sea of Japan.
The task of mine sweeping was a dangerous one because the mines could be at any depth in the water or on the ocean floor. Even though the sailors had maps indicating general areas where the mines were, they didn’t know exactly where the mines were. In the process of destroying mines, sometimes the ship’s mine sweeping gear would disconnect from the ship and they’d have to spend hours trying to retrieve it….difficult to do in the middle of a minefield. His ship also encountered typhoons during the operations.
He remembers spending Christmas of 1945 in Shanghai, China and enjoyed seeing the displays and lights there.
Duffner was honorably discharged from the Navy in February 1946. He received the Navy Good Conduct Medal, WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Bronze Star, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three Bronze Stars, Navy Occupation Service Medal with Asian Clasp, China Service Medal, Honorable Service Lapel Pin and a Discharge Button.
He was on the Honor Flight and recently went to the Honor Flight Ball in Columbia.
After his military service Al returned to Hermann and spent his career in the lumber business. He managed a lumber yard in Hermann for 29 years before retiring.
He met his wife on a blind date that was arranged by one of his friends. They married in 1947 and had four children: 3 boys and a girl. His son Richard lives in Mexico, Mo; John lives in Atlanta, Ga.; Danny lives in Springfield, Mo. and Mary lives in Columbia, Mo. Al has two grandchildren. He and his wife were married for 59 years before she passed away.
During retirement, Duffner was involved with the Lion’s Club, the VFW and St. George Catholic Church Men’s Society. He coached a boys’ basketball team for St. George Catholic School and was a Boy Scout Troop Leader.