AF employee reflects on life, 70-year career

  • Published
  • By Steve Warns
  • AFCEC Public Affairs
The longest-serving civilian in U.S. Air Force history has one reason for serving the U.S. government for 70 years.

“I love to work on giving the United States and our Airmen something for the money we spent,” said Anthony “Tony” Duno, 91, who retires Nov. 1 as U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s Lead Residual Value Negotiator for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s European store front at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. “We’re entitled to that money. They (the other countries) owe us.”

Duno’s formula for a long career is simple.

“Professionally, obey the boss,” he said. “Personally, everything in moderation.”

Duno recouped more than $1 billion from the return of installations to host countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East during the buildup and drawdown of the Cold War. That money directly supported Airmen and their families, and the U.S. Air Force mission in Europe. 

“There isn’t a country in Europe that he hasn’t touched in a meaningful way,” said Jeff Domm, AFCEC Europe division chief, who has worked with Duno since 2012. “There probably isn’t an ambassador he hasn’t spoken to about real property initiatives and ideas, all in support of USAFE and the U.S. Air Force.”

Nancy Broadway, his daughter, said while her father will officially retire, she can’t imagine him doing anything else. 

“I don’t know if he thinks that he’s not going to be working, not going to be involved,” Broadway said. “He’s still engaged, and he’s still asking the questions. It’s personal to him.”

Humble beginnings

The Great Depression and World War II shaped Duno’s career and life. Born on June 13, 1925, to Sicilian immigrants, he grew up in The Bronx, the youngest of eight children. 

“My childhood was tough,” Duno said. “We were poor. We had to find ways to survive and learn the value of a dollar. All I learned about life, I learned as a kid in The Bronx.”

One way Duno survived was scouring the streets for used toothpicks and popsicle sticks in the mornings with his brother Tom. They would use the sticks to make a fire and boil an inch of leather off belts to make leather soup, which they subsisted on during the Great Depression.

Josephine Suarez, his sister, recalled her brother being motivated by a sense of purpose and duty.

“It just seemed to come natural to him,” said Suarez, 93. “He was just very focused on doing the best he could. I would trust him implicitly in terms of his honesty and character, and that helped him tremendously in his career.”

Duno was fiercely devoted to his mother, Giovannina, a woman whose courage and “gagootz,” or Italian for smarts, still awes him.

“My mother held the family together. She picked us up when were down and out and showed us how to cope with problems,” Duno said. “She worked three jobs to support us during the Depression. She took a lot of grief, and she never lost faith in God.”

Duno shares several stories of his mother’s resourcefulness.

“Once, it was election time in our neighborhood, and the vote that she would give was a precious one,” Duno said. “There was a knock on the door, with a man in a suit holding a bag of groceries. He said he was running for office and counting on her vote. Momma said she would think about it. A while later, there was another knock at the door, and another gentleman with a bag of groceries was standing at the door and asking for her vote. My mother replied when she looked at what he had in the bag of groceries, she would decide. 

“As a result of this, she had not one, but two bags of much-needed food.”

It took a lot of strength to survive the Great Depression, Duno said, and more so when his older brother Michael was killed in the China Burma India Theatre during World War II while building the longest pipeline in the world at that time for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

“If you were killed in the war those days, you were entitled to receive benefits, which were limited to $36 a month, but you could get that check for almost forever,” Duno said. “Instead of accepting (a lump-sum payment of) $5,000, she accepted $36 a month because she knew she would receive that for the rest of her life. That’s how sad it was to try and correct the situation.” 

Besides her family, perhaps what his mother held most dear was her American citizenship.

“My mother went to night school to learn English,” Duno said. “I learned that being an American citizen was a gift that wasn’t to be squandered. And that hard work was necessary for survival. Not only for my own survival, but for that of our country.” 

That survival instinct, honed in childhood, served him well in combat and for his future career with the U.S. government.

‘The bravest of the brave’

Duno never intended to enter the military after graduating from high school in 1943.

“I was determined not to go,” he said. “I did everything I could to get away from going into the military. But when the day came, I went. I took a battery of tests, and for some strange reason, I passed with very high marks.”

Duno passed the Army Specialized Training Program, or ASTP, test at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He was en route to Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pennsylvania, to enter the officer’s corps when the train was stopped in Harrisburg.

A general told the soldiers the U.S. Army needed more infantry troops. So they trained in the West Virginia mountains before entering the European Theatre.

Duno served as a staff sergeant; infantry rifleman, first scout and squad leader in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army in the 379th Infantry Regiment, 95th Infantry Division. He helped liberate the town of Metz during the Battle of Metz and Luxembourg during the Battle of the Ardennes, known as the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded at the Battle of Saarlautern and still has a piece of shrapnel lodged in his head. 

Under Patton, the division engaged the enemy for 103 consecutive days. It became known as “the famous 95th Division,” and a New York newspaper labeled it “the bravest of the brave.”

Duno was “tickled pink” when he heard the end of the war in Europe announced on a Jeep radio. His division, though, was earmarked to return stateside before a planned invasion of Japan. But atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan’s surrender later that year to end World War II.

Duno, who was awarded a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a Combat Infantryman Badge, kept a Christmas card from Patton, with a chaplain’s prayer on the back, in his wallet for decades before his family convinced him to frame it. 

The card reads: “To each officer and solider in the Third United States Army, I wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessing rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day.”

After the war and unable to find a job, Duno re-enlisted in the U.S. Army for 18 months with the U.S. Army Occupation Forces. He was assigned to the Nuremberg Army Garrison, Germany, during the Nazi trials.

“I was expecting to get a job as an infantry soldier,” Duno said. “What they gave me was a policeman’s job. I didn’t have a clue what a cop did. But they trained me to be a cop in this big jailhouse.”

One Nazi stood out for Duno — Hermann Göring, second in command to Adolf Hitler. Göring was sentenced to death by hanging, but he ingested a cyanide pill a day before he was to be executed.

Selfless service

Duno would stay in Germany and start his civilian career with the U.S. government in 1947 as an administrative and logistical officer with the Army Exchange Service. In 1950, he joined the U.S. Air Force as a management officer with the Air Installation Office.

In 1958, he married Elly Neuweiler and they would have two daughters – Patricia Sloss and Nancy Broadway. They were married for almost 50 years before Elly died in 2007.

His career meant multiple moves throughout Germany and Great Britain – 14 total, according to Broadway – but Elly always said it was “one big adventure.”

“She made a home for our family, no matter where we moved, without regard to location,” Duno said. “She was an incredibly positive woman, and she lived a life of service.”

Duno’s work ethic, commitment to the U.S. Air Force and selflessness made a lasting impression on his daughters. Despite the long hours and constant travel, he was a devoted husband and family man.

“When we were growing up, we knew work was very important to him,” Sloss said. “Family came first, but our vision of him was ‘Daddy’s going to work today,’ and being TDY a lot. I think TDY was probably next to ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa.’ We knew what TDY was before most kids did. 

“But we were daddy’s little girls. Always. He taught us that family was everything.”

That approach was key to his success when he joined the real estate division at USAFE headquarters in 1967. Retired Maj. Gen. Joseph “Bud” Ahern, who was then a captain with the security service in Frankfurt, Germany, marveled at Duno’s competence, character and compassion toward his colleagues.

“I had some missions to accomplish, and I needed real estate to be able to fulfill them,” said Ahern, who retired in 1992 as the Air Force Civil Engineer. “He exercised what we didn’t have a good deal of, and that was real estate skill and management awareness of the business context of the NATO nations.

“He really cared about young officers and young enlisted men,” he added. “When they went to Europe on assignment, he made sure they knew their way around so they had a quick foundation to function.”

Residual values negotiations are often complex, lengthy and are conducted at the host nation’s ministerial level. Duno often told personal stories during negotiations, such as his tour in the Netherlands during World War II and of his childhood.

“Holland suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis,” Duno said. “I was often able to remind our Allies of such during negotiations. When the time came some 40 years later, to sell the houses in (the former) Soesterberg Air Base, back to the government of the Netherlands, they, in appreciation, advised us to wait because the market would soon be in an upswing and therefore cause a huge increase in the return on U.S. investments.”

While negotiating $2 million in residual values in Israel, Duno decided to break the ice by declaring “It was a lovely day” – in Yiddish. Growing up, he had a friend whose family spoke nothing but Yiddish.

“I see you’re from The Bronx – no American speaks Yiddish unless he’s from The Bronx,” the Israeli officer said. “We’re going to have a great day!”

Duno’s calm demeanor and patience masked a bulldog tenacity during negotiations. He had two mottos when negotiating: “We ain’t payin’” and “I don’t care if it’s 10 cents. We’re getting every penny.” 

Retired Lt. Col. Charles Ketchel, who worked with Duno as the staff assistant judge advocate general with USAFE and then as a civilian attorney with the command, recalled a negotiator who wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“Once he got his teeth into an issue, he wouldn’t let go,” Ketchel said. “He was tenacious in defending the Americans and America’s interest in trying to get as much money as he could for returning the facilities to the host nations.”

His dedication to the Airmen and the United States never ceased to amaze Kathleen Ferguson, who was chief of programs in civil engineering for USAFE in the late ’90s.

“Some of my fondest memories of Tony were when he would come back with these huge checks, and he would present them to the civil engineer or the USAFE commander,” Ferguson said. “That was just a huge testament to Tony and what he did. He didn’t do it for himself. He didn’t do it for the glory. He did it to help out the Airmen.” 
A lasting legacy

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James praised Duno in a special ceremony July 22 at the Pentagon to recognize his service.

“You truly epitomize the core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all that we do,” James said. “I promise that we’re going to work really hard into the future to live up to the example that you have set for us.”

Gerald Johnson worked with Duno off and on for almost 20 years, and he was Duno’s boss from 2009-12 as chief of the asset management division for USAFE.

But Johnson said it’s the other way around.

“Tony worked for me on paper, but I’ll tell you, he never worked for me,” said Johnson, now the facilities division chief for Headquarters Air Force. “I worked for him, and I learned from him every day of the week.

“He’s taught multiple generations of young officers and civilians on how to go forward in the world, how to be patient and how to love your country,” he added. “Any time he went out, he brought back gold. He’ll go down in history, especially in the Air Force civil engineer world, as the ultimate real property officer.” 

The retirement of Duno and his coworker Karl-Willi Ningelgen, senior environmental advisor for the AFCEC European store front, means 110 years of institutional knowledge is departing AFCEC this year.

“It’s been a great pleasure for me to make a contribution to this organization, and I will really, really miss it,” Duno said.