RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) — This September, Anthony “Tony” Duno will celebrate his retirement from the Air Force after 70 years of service, making him the longest serving civilian in Air Force history.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James recognized Duno’s accomplishments during a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., July 22.
“Mr. Duno is just a remarkable, remarkable public servant,” James said. “Tony teaches all of us life is about hard work, it’s about service, but most importantly, it’s about the people. He truly epitomizes our core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all that you do.”
Duno has come a long way from being a reluctant World War II recruit from the Bronx, New York. Dressed in an elegant three-piece suit and a Burberry scarf for the ceremony, Duno eagerly and passionately shared his life story.
Born into an Italian-American family, Duno was drafted in 1944 at the age of 18 into the 379th Infantry Regiment to fight under the command of Gen. George S. Patton. That was the beginning of a lifelong career that no one, including Duno, could have imagined.
“I had no ability of going into the military,” Duno said. “I think I weighed 115 pounds, if that. I had no interest in the Army, but they said it didn’t matter.”
Although the military was not his original plan, Duno held his own at basic training and found that the military lifestyle suited him.
“One incident I remember vividly was in West Virginia in the winter time (for training maneuvers),” he recalled. “They wanted us to complete a trek through the mountains. They handed me my rucksack, which was 60 or 70 pounds, which was way over my limit, but I made it work. I started quite the commotion because the other guys couldn’t complete the run and the leadership was yelling, ‘If the Yank can make it, why can’t you?’”
Duno had big plans for his career in the military after receiving a commission from the commanding officer, but when troops deployed to Germany, all commissions were cancelled. However, he ended up joining what Duno called “one of the best outfits in the history of mankind.”
While on active duty, Duno served in the Normandy campaign and the Battle of the Bulge, and was assigned to the Nuremberg Trials.
“I really believe the Battle of the Bulge was the most important, severe point of the war. It was so extraordinary because so many things happened that had never happened before,” Duno recalled, referencing the surrenders of the enemy during the bloodiest battle of the war. “The Nuremberg Trials were also extraordinary, because seeing it all take place made me question what the hell was going on.”
Duno later received the French Legion of Honor for his contributions to campaigns in France during WWII. His daughter, Nancy, remembered how his family lovingly called him “Sir Anthony” for a couple of weeks.
Following the war, Duno left the Army, only to serve as the Air Force’s real estate agent, working in residual values. This was a department that handled the sales of leased property back to local governments.
Over the course of his career, he was personally involved in the entire Air Force post-Cold War base drawdown. He was requested by name to testify before Congress on European leasing issues in 1991, and he was described as a significant contributor in infrastructure development projects by the secretary of the Air Force.
The Cold War put Airmen in a situation to go back to Europe. However, the service members arrived with more this time: They took their families with them.
“It was a complete disaster. What were we going to do with all of these families?” Duno recalled.
In order to accommodate the service members’ dependents, Duno was instrumental in negotiating the sale of “tobacco houses.” These were the first housing developments for dependents at military bases in England. The British government remodeled out-of-use tobacco factories for housing.
“Later, as our bases developed and we didn’t have a need for the property, we sold (it) back,” Duno said.
He is credited with leading facility turnover and residual value negotiations with host nations for closures of Torrejon Air Base, Spain; Rhein-Main AB, Germany; and bases in Morocco, Turkey, Greece and Italy. From start to finish, most projects took about seven or eight years. The Comiso AB, Sicily, project alone took five years to negotiate with the Italian Ministry of Defense.
It was Duno’s dedication that earned him a reputation for getting the job done. He fondly recalls being told during one negotiation, “It’s guys like you that make my job so damn difficult.”
As he nears retirement, Duno remembers and is thankful for his family throughout his career.
“I don’t know how I could have done this all without my family. It’s not easy. It’s really a challenge to move so often, to move all of those treasured things. My wife and I moved close to 30 times in 50 years of marriage. She did it all with grace and just said it was a big adventure.”
While Duno is looking forward to retirement, he says he will miss going into work every day and “bringing home the bacon” for his country.
“The Air Force was my life. I will deeply miss all the comrades, all the friends I’ve known. I was joyful, spending time with both the Army and the Air Force. I will miss the sense of taking care of your people, and I found that to be so interesting and joyful,” he said. “I still feel like I can contribute. I will miss every bit of it because it’s something that has become part of me.”
Now the longest serving Air Force civilian, Duno revels in his accomplishment.
“I’m proud of it. I really am, because it gives me so much pleasure to help,” he said. “This has been my whole life. It’s been a challenge, residual values, but when you do get the money, you can use it to support the mission.”
Duno shared stories about the early days of Ramstein AB, his first barbecue with his troops, how many “big guys” he’d befriended, including Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, who wrote him a personal letter just last year. Duno fondly remembers the “jolly good times” in England and how he even saw Ava Gardner once in the officer’s club. Duno keeps a chest filled with keepsakes and mementos from his life, such as foreign currencies, photographs, newspaper articles and Christmas cards. One of those Christmas cards is from Patton — a man who, Duno says, used more curse words than anyone else, adding 25 new words to Duno’s already colorful Bronx vocabulary.
Slowing down doesn’t seem to be in the cards for Duno, as he heads toward retirement in New Hampshire.
Duno — a man who came from humble beginnings, was born in the “Roaring ‘20s,” watched the influence of the Great Depression, and fought in a world war at just 18 years of age — shared a few words of wisdom that he lives by.
“I have a philosophy that is very simple,” he said. “Don’t eat too much, easy on the alcohol and take a walk.”