Honoring a legend

Remembering Medal of Honor Recipient Duane E. Dewey

BALDWIN – As a man who touched many lives during his lifetime, Medal of Honor recipient Duane E. Dewey's passing on Oct. 11, in Augustine, Florida, was met with sadness, but also with many attributing the greatness of this local hero, known to those who knew him as a very humble and kind man.

Born in Grand Rapids on Nov. 16, 1931, Duane's family later moved to Muskegon, and by his late teen years, he moved to South Haven to live with his aunt and worked at farms. He married Bertha Bierhalter, who passed in 2020, and had a son, Ike, named for Dwight Eisenhower, and a daughter, Arline.

It was while serving in Korea, Duane became the legend and hero he has since been known as. He served with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, and was on the front lines of Korea, where his act of heroism occurred at Panmunjom, Korea, April 15-16, 1952, as follows:

“There were 80 Marines in Easy Company defending Outpost 3 against a battalion strength army force of Chinese. Running low on ammunition, 19 year old Cpl. Dewey ran to another machine gun crew for more. As he returned, his left leg was ripped open by an enemy grenade blast. Bleeding heavily from the thigh and groin he tried to reorient himself.

“Dewey was one of several wounded being treated by a corpsman and as he knelt over Dewey to remove his blood-soaked pants, another grenade hit the ground beside them. Dewey grabbed it and for a second considered throwing it back. But he decided he didn’t have time or the strength, so he tucked it underneath him, pulling the medic down with his other hand and yelling, ‘Hit the dirt Doc, I’ve got it in my hip pocket.’ The grenade detonated, lifting Dewey several inches off the ground and tearing up his hip. The corpsman was unharmed.”

Duane was the first person to be presented the Medal of Honor by Pres. Dwight Eisenhower on March 12, 1953, at the White House, the U.S. military's highest decoration for valor. Pres. Eisenhower told him, “You must have a body of steel.”

After serving in the Marines, Duane was employed at Everett Piano Company in South Haven. He then attended Michigan’s Veteran’s Vocational School at Pine Lake to learn skills to repair office machines. He then opened his own business, South Haven Office Machines. Additionally, he drove school bus for South Haven Public Schools.

Duane retired in 1973, and he and his wife Bertha moved to Irons to their hunting cabin, and winter in Gainesville, Fl.

It was during Duane’s time in Lake County, he made great connections with local area veterans, and many other folks in the area. He served many years as chaplain at the Dewey E. Duane AMVETS Post No. 1988 — named in his honor — as well as at district level. He also was an honorary AMVETS rider.

Friends and fellow veterans of Duane met with the Star on Friday, Oct. 15, at AMVETS to share fond memories of this cherished man.

Ron Reurink, Sons Commander at AMVETS, said Duane was a “real proud Marine” as well as somewhat of a jokester.

Marlene Gaitan, Post Commander for AMVETS, shared one of her memories.

“I met Duane later on in life, about 2007-08. A few years after I met him, I was at Dublin store, and he was just standing there outside, against the wall. I had friends with me who were from Indiana, but who are Marines. He recognized they were Marines and talked to them like he knew them – like brothers. He was just like a regular guy you met at a grocery store,” Gaitan said. “I was fortunate enough when we did the wall escort, to get a picture with him. That was the last time I saw him.”

“I was elected post commander in 2019, and had some big shoes to fill with his namesake, trying to live up to his honor. When I joined the army, the drill sergeant said it would not be very often, if at all, we’d meet a Medal of Honor recipient, but I did. I only met him a few times, but those times were very special.”

Norm Zelony, Veterans Service Officer for Lake County was a boy when he met Duane.

“I knew Duane when I was only 12 when he moved up here,” he said, remembering Dewey would help with building a cabin, and after the cabin was done, he enjoyed hearing more details of stories. He would sometimes catch his dad and Duane at a bar. Natural Light was his beer.

“When I told Duane I joined the Navy, he said he wouldn’t hold that against me. I was able to spend time with him when I moved back here in 2008, and it was nice seeing Bertha, his wife. He was just one of the quietest, gentle people, so many similarities between him and my dad. They were both farm boys growing up, and you could see the influence later in their lives,” Zelony said.

Reurink recalled Duane’s wife, Bertha,

“If you knew Duane, you’d have to say Bertha was a driving force in his life. She kept him in line. She’d drop him off sometimes and when she came to pick him up, she gave that look ... and he knew he better call it a night. She took care of him,’ he said.

Dave Woodman, Post Commander of VFW Post No. 5315, and life-member of AMVETS, said Duane and Bertha were good, down-to-earth people.

“Duane was very friendly and could tell great stories,” Woodman said. “You could tell things weren’t easy for him – he went through some hard times – but he made it. He told me when he got hit with a grenade, another guy got hit with a machine gun. They were both left there for the night, and were the last two to be evacuated, because it was assumed they would die. They stayed there all night with their wounds, but they both made it.”

Diana Lammott, who joked she was Duane’s personal body guard, said she was lucky enough to go to Florida when they named the street he lived on Duane Dewey Blvd., where he lived south of Gainesvill during winter.

Lammott said there were many honors Duane took part in, such as a special dedication in Irons on July 31, 2014, for being placed on the Medal of Honor Korea stamp.

“Duane and Bertha took us to see the memorial for him at Manistee up on the river. There’s also a really nice display of him at Frankenmuth. Here at AMVETS there also is a display of things and memorabilia he donated,” Lammott said, among many other places in Michigan and out of state. “He was so excited, talking so fast, when he told me he saw his name in South Carolina.”

“If someone didn’t tell you he was a Medal of Honor recipient, you wouldn’t know. He was the finest, most humble person,” Lammott added.

Woodman agreed with Lammott.

“He didn’t push that he was a Medal of Honor recipient. He just introduced himself as Duane,” Woodman said.

Lammott said when she researched Medal of Honor recipients, Duane’s ranking was so high, he was the only one the President of the U.S. had to solute to.

“He is a gem in Lake County and this nation,” she said.

Though he was known as humble, he was very proud to be a Marine.

“You could tell he was a Marine. He made sure he had creased pants, ironed shirt, polished shoes,” Reurink added.

Bill Chiddister also shared special memories.

“Duane was my best man when my wife and I got married,” Chiddister said, “During the wedding, he had everyone in the courthouse laughing. He put his own words in place of what he was supposed to be reading. He can make anyone laugh.”

Anita Adams, Ladies Auxiliary president, said she was so proud to know Duane.

“I was so lucky to have known him, He was an amazing man,” she said.

Reurink said Duane loved road trips, and how he knew every bar along the coastline in Florida.

“He made sure we visited AMVETS Post No. 88 in Cedar Key, and it didn’t take long for people to know who he was. Before you know it, cell phones started going off. He liked Cedar Key,” Reurink said.

Woodman remembers the fire truck Duane bought.

“I remember when he brought that fire truck and brought it up here, and donated it to the post. He was really proud of that truck,” Woodman said, adding how it was used in parades.

There are many books which mention and tribute Duane as Medal of Honor recipient. In such a book, owned by Lammott, in his own words, he said,

“I don’t often speak at schools or offer advice, but the advice I would offer is this: You need to like the job that you do, whatever it is. If you like your job, you will be successful. If you don’t like your job, most likely you won’t find success. In life it is important to never give up, be honest, and have faith in God,” Duane E. Dewey.

A visitation will be from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 22, at Filbrandt Chapel in South Haven, with the memorial service at 1 p.m.

Also to pay tribute, the Duane E. Dewey AMVETS Post No. 1988 will be hosting a celebration of life at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 23, at the post.