ORANGE PARK, Fla. — Derek Ray figures that if they ever remade the “The Green Berets” movie, there couldn’t have been anyone better for the John Wayne role than Michael Duskin.
Rumbling voice? Check.
Imposing presence? At a muscular 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, you bet.
Gung-ho attitude? Sure. Duskin had a T-shirt declaring himself “Politically Incorrect,” and he kicked doors in on seven deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Friends and family honored him at a memorial service at Town Hall Park Saturday, under gray skies and a increasingly chilly northeast wind. Duskin died Oct. 23 from wounds received from small-arms fire in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, where he was on an eight-month deployment with Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) from Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
He was 42, and had been in the Army since 1993.
His father, George Duskin, a decorated Navy pilot in Vietnam, said he was told that his son rushed to help American and Afghan soldiers who had been ambushed by three Taliban insurgents; he got two of them before the third shot him.
“Mike was the guy who did things when they needed to be done,” his father told the crowd. “He did a service to his fellow soldiers.”
Duskin was also respected by the local leaders with whom he dealt in Afghanistan, said George Duskin, who got laughs when he told how the locals once offered his son a house and a wife to try to get him to stay.
And Ray, who served with Duskin in Iraq and Afghanistan, said his friend had a softer side to go with the fearless warrior part of him: “He had a gentle way about him. He knew when to be heavy-handed and when not to be.”
Duskin graduated from Middleburg High School, where he played football. He leaves behind his wife, Maggie, and three children, including his 24-year-old stepson, Nathan Duskin, a staff sergeant in the Army.
“He prepared me to be the man I am today,” he told those in attendance, in a speech often stopped by tears.
Numerous soldiers who served overseas with Duskin spoke or were in the crowd.
Adrian Lane, a captain in the National Guard, and David Amerine, a retired staff sergeant, were in Afghanistan with him in March 2003. Before the service, they recalled the day Duskin stepped in when he saw Afghan men tormenting a puppy. The soldiers and the locals didn’t share a common language, but Duskin made himself clear.
“When you heard the bolt of that M4 going forward, everyone understands English,” said Amerine.
Several hundred people attended the service. There was a flyover, 12 planes in all. A bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.” A Navy bugler played taps. And a recording of the 1960s hit, “Ballad of the Green Berets,” played over the sound system.
After the service, Ray said he got to really know Duskin as they went through warrant officer training together, which was far removed from the battlefield. “He couldn’t stand computers. He was all about guns and kicking in doors,” he said, chuckling. “The hardest thing for a guy like him was sitting behind a computer learning PowerPoint.”
This much is clear, Ray said. “The man embodied what a Green Beret should act and look like. He was the best warrior I ever met.”