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Every person has a story; AFMC historian makes it his business to tell them

  • Published
  • By Michele Donaldson
  • Air Force Materiel Command

The mission of the Air Force Materiel Command History Office is to record and tell the story of the command for future generations.

Brian Duddy became a staff historian in December, but before he ever set foot in the office, he was already telling Air Force tales.

Duddy found a love for aviation early on, inspired by his father's stories about his time as a mechanic in the Army Air Corps. Duddy spent his youth building models and flying radio-controlled crafts, and he earned his pilot's license while still in high school.

Unsurprisingly, he joined the Air Force via the Reserve Officer’s Training Corp at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and spent 24 years not flying planes, but buying them.

Duddy worked in acquisition as an instructor and a program manager prior to retiring from active duty service. He then took a civilian role at the Acquisition Center of Excellence before obtaining his current position in the AFMC history office.

"Program management is the best job in the world," he said, "You have a hand in everything: money, people, scheduling, and finally getting capabilities to the field."

Duddy’s job in the history office involves archiving current command activities so that those in the future will know what happened and why leaders chose specific paths. He particularly enjoys special studies and analysis where he and his coworkers review detailed reports and analyze the cause and effect of military decisions, especially in technology.

"It's interesting to see how projects were once accomplished one way, then it changes, and then changes back," said Duddy, "It's like a pendulum swinging."

Duddy is currently working on examining the evolution of the F-16, from identifying the need to where it is today, from the Air Force perspective.

"One thing that does not change is the design process," he said, "It's always the same: identify a need, express that need, conceptualize the solution and make it specific, build the prototype, test and fly."

Duddy enjoyed his diverse Air Force assignments, which inspired him to pursue other, related opportunities off-duty. Most notably, his experiences led him to pursue writing, publishing multiple works with an aviation theme.

He wrote his first book, "Wings Over LeRoy: The History of the Donald Woodward Airport, LeRoy, N.Y.,” in 2008. Near his hometown, the airfield has ties to Amelia Earhart and other legendary pilots. He conducted dozens of interviews with local people who once worked there. The local history office there owned a large volume of photos, so they worked closely with Duddy to have the works published.

As Duddy worked on the book, he also learned how to self-publish and market his writing.

"What a great learning experience!" said Duddy. "I not only learned the history, but also acquired the skills to publish so that I can share the information with others."

While at an air show peddling his book, a woman approached Duddy, who was in possession of her father's World War II diary and letters he had written to her mother. She asked if he might be interested in turning it into a book.

"One look at the detail in the diaries and the letters housed in a huge Tupperware box, and I knew there a was a story to be told," said Duddy.

The diary was a comprehensive accounting of an aircraft mechanic's time during the war, and the letters contained many behind-the-scenes descriptions and photographs of daily life. Duddy transcribed snippets from the diary and the letters and combined them with historical background to create his second nonfiction work, "Invasion Stripes, the Wartime Diary of Captain Robert Uhrig, USAAF, and the Dawn of American Military Aircraft.”

The book includes Uhrig's images of the early days at Patterson Field, artifacts from his missions in North Africa and Sicily, and photos from other veterans. Duddy brought the story to life 80 years after it happened.

He is now working on a Cold War adventure novel.

"Years ago, my first supervisor said there were two types of people who join the Air Force: those who need to pay their mortgage, and those who love airplanes," said Duddy. "I'm definitely the latter—it’s why I serve."

Duddy often shares his knowledge of aircraft history. His next presentation is scheduled for Jan. 25 at the Champaign Aviation Museum, 1652 N. Main Street, Urbana, OH 43078. The event is free and open to the public. He will talk about some of the humorous details of the letters in his book and discuss the C-47 that the museum houses, along with the evolution of the B-17 Waco glider.