For the first time, Utah’s Honor Flight program took an all-female flight to the nation’s capital on Thursday. LaRetta Johnson Duncan, 87, of Provo was on that flight.
Stephanie Harmon, chairman of the Honor Flight program said 23 women were scheduled to fly, all but Duncan are veterans of the Vietnam War.
“I was shocked when they called,” Duncan said. “They finally put together an all-female flight and I’m so honored.”
Duncan was a member of the Women’s Air Force during the Korean War. She will be the oldest and only Korean War veteran on the trip.
Duncan said she is more than excited to be on the trip, the only drawback is she is required to be pushed in a wheelchair, something completely foreign to her.
“They always pick out men (for Honor Flights),” Duncan said, “But I want people to know the women were just as important. Don’t you think?”
Duncan was raised in Spanish Fork, and with her aunt Mary Johnson (the same age) they joined the Air Force after graduation from high school.
They were the first women to go to George Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert for basic training and then on to stenographer’s school at Oklahoma A&M University.
“I was trained by a Sgt. Barton. I have learned everything from Sgt. Barton,” Duncan said. “She was the toughest woman I know. I was scared to death of her. If a paper was not typed right she would rip it out of the typewriter and throw it at me.”
Duncan added, “I learned from her to do it right the first time. It got me so far.”
Duncan graduated top in her class. That distinction probably led her to her final destination as the secretary/stenographer to a four-star general.
“I’ve been an achiever all of my life,” Duncan said.
Duncan served from 1950 to 1953. She met her husband, who was also in the Air Force, at Westover Air Force Base and six months later they were married. They have four children.
Their oldest, Debi, was born in the U.S., Rodney was born in Paris, Kirk in Brussels and Selena in Mons, Belgium. She said she calls Kirk her “Brussels sprout.”
After traveling all over the world from New Delhi to Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to Greece, the family settled down in Provo.
Duncan worked for several years in the Utah County Sheriff’s Office as a stenographer/secretary in the investigations department.
She loved all the people she worked with and has held parties for them, even after her retirement. Their favorite appears to have been a biscuit and gravy breakfast event.
“(Duncan) was a pleasure to work with and always helped establish a pleasant and welcoming work environment,” said Sgt. Spencer Cannon, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office. “The instant you walked into her office, you knew she was in charge. But it was always in a warm and friendly way. And only now do I find out she also served in the United States Air Force. My admiration for LaRetta continues to grow. It has been a privilege to have known her and to call her a friend.”
Duncan is also an avid supporter of the Boy Scouts of America and has been awarded the Silver Beaver, one of the highest honors in Scouting.
“I have lived by four things: hard work, always be happy and kind, always be positive and do service to your fellowman,” Duncan said.
According to Harmon, the all-female flight came about because two years previously, a Vietnam War veteran had taken the flight and he thought the women should be honored. He made a $30,000 donation to make sure that happened.
The all-female Honor Flight tour will be from June 6 to 8 and the women will see the Capitol, National Mall, the Women at Arlington, the changing of the guard, a tour of the Naval Academy at Annapolis and attend an honors banquet.
For information about Honor Flights contact https://utahhonorflight.org.