CLARK, NJ – He is a man singularly devoted to keeping alive the memory of those who have died in service to their country. William “Duff” Duffy, a former US Army drill sergeant and retired Clark police officer, has spent countless hours researching, documenting and teaching about Clark’s "fallen heroes" – 21 men from Clark who died in the line of military service.
“I came home,” Duffy said. “They did not come home. They must be remembered. Their sacrifices must be remembered.”
The men served in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. They are all young: some single, some married, some fathers, all sons. And all from Clark.
Duffy recites each name as if the young soldier was a long lost relative: Bullman, Miller, Bienko, Bitsko, Clauss, Graves, Green, Grossman, Hutchinson, Makowski, Padusniak, Ruddy, Schmitt, Witkowski, Wilkes, Hartman, Kuspiel, Sevell, Winters, Benish and Harvey. He recites facts and figures about each man’s service, as much information as he could find over his 43 years of research.
Born and raised in Clark, Duffy fondly remembers life in the township in the 1950s. “It was ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ it was ‘My Three Sons.’ I played on the Clark Little League,” Duffy said.
But in 1968 his draft notice arrived in his mailbox. Not wanting a grunt position, Duffy said he took himself to the recruitment office and signed up for a three-year stint in the U.S. Army. He trained at Fort Dix, New Jersey and Fort Knox, Kentucky, before being sent off to South Korea in 1969.
“I was 13 months on the DMZ in artillery,” Duffy said. “We would look across no-man’s land. They would see us, we would see them. It was a defensive post, but the North Koreans would infiltrate our lines. Over the years, US servicemen have been lost on the DMZ.”
He returned safely from Korea and spent the rest of his army career as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. At the end of his military commitment, Duffy returned home in August, 1971. He began a 28-year career with the Clark Police Department. Early on, as part of his duties, Duffy served on the police color guard.
Duffy’s first assignment with the color guard was the township’s Memorial Day ceremony in 1973. It was at the township’s World War II monument, then installed on Broadway, but now located at the Arthur L. Johnson High School, where Duffy’s commitment to Clark’s fallen heroes began.
“After the service, me being a lover of history, I walked up to the memorial and saw the 12 names there,” Duffy said. “I was reading them all. I asked the old guys from World War II, ‘Where did Ruddy serve? Where did Bienko serve? Where did Clauss live? Where did Schmitt die?’ No one had the answers. I was amazed by that. I made it my business from that day to find out everything I could about those 12 guys.”
Duffy began his research at the Elizabeth Public Library, where he poured through every edition of the “Elizabeth Daily Journal” from Pearl Harbor Day in Dec. 7, 1941 through VJ Day on Sept. 2, 1945, he said. He found mention of all 12 men – missing-in-action reports, death reports, unit names, home addresses. He then traveled to the National Archives in Washington, DC, where he accessed the men’s military files.
“You had to go in with white gloves. It was 10-cents per copy. I was looking at their actual military records. There are ‘after-action’ reports. There’s a report on every one, where they died, how they died, who was witness to how they died. It’s all there,” Duffy explained. He said he has thousands of pages of documentation.
During his research, he found bits of information about other Clark war dead. Councilman Brian Toal, while doing his own research on the history of Clark, tipped Duffy off to James Bullman, who died during the Civil War and whose family owned a farm on Raritan Road. Duffy then “ran with it,” finding information about Bullman’s death in the National Archives.
“I was touching records that he [Bullman] touched,” Duffy said. “His enlistment records, that he signed in 1862. So my hands are touching paperwork that he touched. I think that’s great. Think about that.”
Since Duffy began his research, two more young men from Clark died in service. Benish died in Iraq in 2005, Harvey died in Afghanistan in 2011.
“The citizens of Clark should know about these guys, and where they lived and how they died,” Duffy said. “The youth of Clark should know about these guys. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be here.”
And so Duffy’s mission includes education. He visits ALJ every year in May and teaches the township’s high school students about the war dead. He brings memorabilia, uniforms, medals, and letters the soldiers wrote to home. He returns each November, on Veterans Day, to again remind the students of the sacrifices made by others.
As a constant reminder to all, there are Clark streets named for these men who died. Gold stars appear on certain street signs in town: Harvey Court, Ruddy Place, Schmitt Lane, the list goes on. In 1995, Duffy was instrumental in the passage of a township ordinance mandating that all new streets in Clark be named after one of the fallen men. With 19 men honored, Duffy spots new construction in town as an opportunity to honor those two who remain: Alvin Grossman and Edward Makowski.
And now Duffy will bring Clark's fallen heroes to an online audience as he shares each man's story with TAP into Clark's readers. The “Clark’s Fallen Heroes” series will begin on May 8 and run daily through Memorial Day.