Joseph Miller Duff, Jr.
Submitted by: Andrew Capets (Author of "Good War, Great Men")
Joseph Miller Duff Jr. born around 1889, Joseph Duff served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The enlistment was in 1918 and the service was completed in 1918
Joseph "Joe" Miller Duff Jr. was destined to lead men. Unfortunately, like so many brilliant young men of their time, his life was cut short in the killing fields of the Meusue-Argonne. Duff was an Ivy League graduate, the Head Football Coach for the University of Pittsburgh, an attorney for the Allegheny County Bar in Pittsburgh, and a World War I machine gunner.
Joe Duff was an American hero. Despite being rejected by the Army on three different occasions for medical reasons, Duff was determined to serve his country and was eventually able to convince the local draft board to overlook his vision problems.
Duff was a 1912 graduate of Princeton University. As a standout player on their varsity football team, he was named a 1911 ‘All-American’ and proclaimed to be one of the ‘greatest guards in football history’ according to a 1913 Pittsburgh Press newspaper article.
After graduation he was asked to stay on at Princeton to serves as an assistant football coach. The following year he received an offer to become head football coach at the University of Pittsburgh. Duff delivered two winning seasons for Pittsburgh in 1913 and 1914. Following the 1914 season, Pitt found an opportunity to hire legendary coach Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner. Coach Warner helped Pitt win the College Football National Championship in 1915.
That same year, Duff obtained his Law Degree from the University of Pittsburgh and went on to work in his brother James Duff's law firm.
At the time of the national draft registration, Duff was already a college graduate. He enlisted in the Military Training Association, and was situated at the Reserve Officers Training Camp at Fort Niagara in June 1917. At the end of his training at Fort Niagara, NY, he was not assigned to a specialized unit as many of the other candidates listed on the roster. His vision problems likely kept the Army from granting him a commission.
In December 1917, Duff worked as an attorney for the United States Justice Department and was responsible for prosecuting men who attempted to evade the draft, the so called "slackers" as they were often called in the newspapers of the time.
However, this role as a government prosecutor did not protect him from being called up under the terms of the Selective Service Draft. When his draft number was called in Carnegie, PA, he took the opportunity to persuade the draft board to waive his medical condition and allow him to be inducted into the Army. He was sent to Camp Lee, Virginia in March 1918 and joined with Company D of the 313th Machine Gun Battalion, 80th Division.
Duff set sail with the Battalion aboard the USS Mercury in May 1918 as a Private. In less than one month he was promoted to Corporal. His prior military training to become an officer at Fort Niagara surely made Duff stand out among the other men. Duff was soon promoted to the rank of Sergeant as part of his machine gun battalion.
His tenure with the 313th Machine Gun Battalion took him into action in part of the Artois Sector of France from July 23 to August 18, 1918, and in the Saint Mihiel Offensive Corps Reserve from September 12 to 16, 1918. During my research for the book "Good War, Great Men." I uncovered letters written by Duff's commanding officer that revealed this officer's fondness for Sergeant Duff.
Commanding Company D was Captain William George Thomas, a 1909 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Thomas was the former captain of their UNC varsity football team and recognized Duff within the ranks of D Company. Thomas wrote letters home recalling that Duff was once hired by UNC to coach their football team (1915 season).
The officers of the A.E.F. were frequently being asked to provide recommendations for men within their ranks who could be sent to officers training camps in France to lead other men. Captain Thomas recommended Duff for officers training, and on September 30, 1918, Joe Duff accepted his commission as a Second Lieutenant and was assigned to lead a machine gun company in the 32nd Division, 125th Infantry.
After only ten days with his new unit, Duff was killed while fighting at Gesnes-en-Argonne, part of the Meuse-Argonne offensive. His 'Red Arrow Division' engaged German troops east of the Meuse River until the Armistice was signed. The 32nd Division suffered a total of 13,261 casualties, including 2,250 men killed in action during the war, making it third in total number of battle deaths among all U.S. Army Divisions. Duff's body was buried in a temporary gravesite in Dur-sur-Meuse, France.
Lieutenant Duff's brother, Captain George M. Duff, a Chaplain serving in France with the 305th Infantry, sent a telegram back home to his brother James to notify the family of Joseph’s death. The remains of Lieutenant Duff were returned to the family about three years after his death and a funeral service was held on September 9, 1921 at the First Presbyterian Church in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. Duff’s brother George, then pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Elwood City, presided over the funeral and his remains were interred in the Chartiers Cemetery in Carnegie, Pennsylvania.
His brother James H. Duff later become a prominent figure in Pennsylvania politics and served as the 34th Governor of Pennsylvania from 1947-1951 and also a United States Senator from Pennsylvania 1951-1957. Joe Duff was truly an 'All American' in every respect, and it is with great honor that we remember his sacrifice during this Centennial Anniversary.
Andrew J. Capets