Veteran of World War II and Korean Conflict. During the
Korean Conflict, he served as a First Lieutenant in Company L, 65th
Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. Recipient of the Distinguished
A highly decorated Army veteran who led bayonet attacks on
enemy lines in two wars and received the military's second-highest medal
for heroism, Mr. Durkee, who had been a promising boxer and baseball
player in his youth, was an Army paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne
Division in World War II.
He was a member of the doomed 551st Parachute
Infantry Battalion, which lost more than 80 percent of its 643 troops in
Belgium's Ardennes Forest during the Battle of the Bulge in January
1945. The casualties were so severe the unit came to be known as the
In early January 1945, 2nd Lt. Durkee led his platoon
in an assault on German machine-gun emplacements in an effort to seize
the Belgian town of Rochelinval, the site of a bridge that was the only
means of escape for nearby German forces. As he approached the position,
Mr. Durkee turned to another soldier, saying, "Send up the damn men so
we can attack the town." "Sir, I can't," the soldier answered. "They're
all dead." The lieutenant went back to find more than 15 men killed by
After keeping his squad awake all night, lest
they fall asleep and freeze to death, Mr. Durkee ordered a daring Jan. 4
maneuver. Running through ankle-deep snow, he led 30 soldiers in a
bayonet charge on German lines. He was the first to reach the enemy
foxholes, and in less than 30 minutes of hand-to-hand fighting, 60
German soldiers lay dead. Allied forces captured Rochelinval on Jan. 7,
and German forces retreated the next day.
On March 23, 1951, 1st Lt.
Durkee led a squad of soldiers in an attack near Uijongbu, Korea. His
official citation captures the moment in all its drama, bravery and
horror: For this action, Mr. Durkee was awarded the Distinguished
Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor for wartime heroism.
His wounded right arm remained partially paralyzed for the rest of his
By the time he left the Army in 1955 with the rank of captain, he
had also received the Silver Star, two awards of the Bronze Star and
four Purple Hearts.
Mr. Durkee, born in Hornell, N.Y., was a Golden
Gloves middleweight boxing champion in 1938 and 1939, and later played
semiprofessional baseball. After his military service, he graduated from
the University of Maryland and became an insurance-claims adjuster.
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(courtesy of David McInturff)
Grave marker for Richard W. Durkee in Plot: Section
69, Site 1212 of the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington (Arlington
career began in September 1940 when he enlisted as a Private in Elmira,
NY a few days
after his 22nd birthday.
Thirteen months later he was transferred as a SSgt to the 508th PIR from the
507th PIR as part of the cadre team. He was a 1st Sgt in Company C
when the regiment was in Camp Mackall, NC during most of 1943.
Sometime later he was commissioned and transferred to the 551st PIR.]
On 1 December 1944 2/Lt Durkee was transferred to the
508th PIR from the 551st PIR He was promoted to 1dst Lt on 1
February 1945 and was later transferred to the 65th Infantry Division.
His military decorations include the Silver Star, Bronze
Star with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster and the Purple Heart with 3 Oak Leaf