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James Duffy Remembered
By Edward Damato
Jim Duffy testifying at
Winter Soldier Investigation hearing
in Detroit, MI, February 1971.
James (Jim) Duffy, longtime VVAW member, activist, and a staunch advocate for the Vietnamese people died on April 7, 2019. To many of us, Jim was a steadfast presence during the anti-war years of the early 1970s in New York City. He was a member of VVAW, testifying at the Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI) held in Detroit in 1971. From 1970 to 1975, he was a mainstay at the US Committee to Aid the NLF of South Vietnam and the Indochina Solidarity Committee.
Born on October 7, 1947, he was raised in the Bronx, New York. Fresh out of high school he enlisted in the US Army on July 15, 1965. Trained as a communications specialist he was sent to Vietnam and, naturally, he was given a job as an M-60 machine gunner on a Chinook helicopter with Company A, 228 Aviation Battalion,1st Air Cavalry Division from February 1967 to April 1968. On one raid in April of 1967, they sprayed Agent Orange to defoliate a jungle path. Years later he told his good friend Mike Stout that within a week of that drop his "body started shaking like a leaf, skin was burning all over…and felt like my insides were on fire." Twice his helicopter went down. He was honorably discharged on April 23, 1968. He sustained numerous injuries that plagued him later in life.
At the WSI in 1971, he told of indiscriminate strafing of civilians in their homes and fields and noted how this was commonplace. He even told of using the rotor wash for fun to scatter harvested loads of rice. One incident gave Jim pause. As they were lifting, the rotor wash blew a boy of about twelve into the path of a 2 1/2 truck, killing the boy instantly. In Detroit, Jim said that their initial reaction was complacence, laughing about it. Then he thought, "No, you can't do that because you develop a shell…They brainwash you. They take all the humanness out of you and you develop this crust which enables you to survive in Vietnam."
In civilian life, he became active in anti-war, pro-worker's rights groups and remained so until he moved upstate, near Albany. In 1992, the VA finally allowed that his ailments were the result of Agent Orange poisoning. According to Stout: "His pancreas was atrophied, his bile ducts all messed up and the cancer had spread through his liver, heart, and bones. His pain over the last decade was tremendous." He died in the hospital awaiting another liver operation. Stout said this about Jim, "his leadership, courage, activism, and transformation should be in the textbooks for every soldier who served."
Jim was survived by his three children, Julia Duffy with his first wife Farrell Levy, and Sean and Christopher Duffy with Nora Baynes, his second wife, who was at his side when he died. His ashes were scattered in the Adirondack Mountains.
In Hamlet, Lord Polonius gives this advice to his son Laertes who is going off to war:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.
Rest assured dear Jim, you are forever chained to our hearts and souls.
Edward Damato was VVAW New York State Coordinator from 1971-1973 and then a National Coordinator from 1973-1979.
He currently is enjoying retired life.