EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


May 26, 2013

A Memorial Day reflection: Uncle Duke, an unheralded hero

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.

— From Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

It was the eve of Memorial Day last year, and per usual my daily walk took me through Elmwood Cemetery at the bottom of my street in Bradford.

It was a beautiful spring day — a few puffy clouds burnishing a sky of brilliant blue. Veterans groups had completed their work, and the grounds were festooned with tiny flags, tricolored reminders of the day’s original Civil War designation as Decoration Day. A brisk breeze made the cemetery’s five flags strain and struggle against their halyards, as if they had snapped smartly to attention, solemnly saluting those who had given their all for them in the European Theaters, where much of the two world wars had played out.

As I ambled through the tranquil grounds, thinking about the war dead buried there, my thoughts turned to my Uncle Duke.

Uncle Duke was born Joseph Roland Harrigan Jr. on Oct. 29, 1924. Throughout his life, though, he would be known simply as the Duke. One of four children, he grew up in the rough-and-tumble Acre section of Haverhill. There, a boy learned to put up his dukes early and often if he were to survive. My mother told me of several bullies who foolishly went toe to toe with the Duke and walked away regretting their decision.

Perhaps it was his pugnacity as much as his patriotism that prompted him to enlist in the Navy on July 30, 1942. He would go on to see action in both World War II and the Korean Conflict.

By the time I got to know Uncle Duke, his military service had been over for nearly 10 years. Then a man only in his early 30s, Duke was roguishly handsome. With his shock of dark wavy hair, he could have been a poster boy for the Black Irish.

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