- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Those lobbying to have a new elementary school in Leonardtown named after World War II fighter pilot Capt. Walter Francis Duke — a choice already endorsed by the superintendent — made their case Wednesday again directly to the St. Mary’s County Board of Education.
Eleanor Fearns, one of Duke’s sisters, attended a school board public hearing on the new school’s name Wednesday along with several other family members. Four people spoke in support of Duke.
The new school’s likely name — Capt. Walter Francis Duke Elementary School — was unveiled during a meeting last month. School board members at the time each voiced their support for naming the school after Duke. The board plans to take final action at its April 10 meeting. The school is scheduled to open in August 2015.
Thomas A. Mattingly Sr., a former county commissioner, said he spent a great deal of time swapping stories with one of Duke’s brothers, and learned a lot about the pilot’s heroism.
“We shared a lot of experiences and talked a lot about what Walter had done in terms of accomplishments” before his aircraft was shot down by a Japanese fighter pilot, Mattingly said.
He said that Duke would be a fitting name for the new school because of its proximity to the family burial ground.
Duke was a member of a prominent Leonardtown family, and after his death at age 23 during World War II he remained a hero and fixture among his relatives and family friends.
His P-38 fighter was shot down over Burma on June 6, 1944. An aircraft and remains discovered recently in what is now Myanmar may be his, family members have been told. They are hopeful his remains will be returned to St. Mary’s.
Jay Mattingly, a Leonardtown council member, thanked the school board for its consideration of the Duke name.
“Everybody gave during that time. It was a time when everyone was united, truly united,” Jay Mattingly said. “The more we celebrate him, we celebrate those people, too.”
Jonathan Beasley of Budds Creek apologized to the school board, and particularly member Mary Washington, for writing a letter to the editor that appeared in The Enterprise last month. He said he was sorry for framing the choice over the school name between a war hero and “a slave plantation,” referring to Woodbury, a former name of the property.
Beasley also formally apologized to members of the Hayden family, who last lived on the property before the county bought the land several years ago.
Kennedy Abell shared pictures of Duke with the board. He said choosing Duke caused a lot of excitement in Leonardtown, and that it would be a proper, long-lasting tribute to the war hero.
Superintendent Michael Martirano proposed the name Duke at an earlier school board meeting, referring to the him as “a true son of Leonardtown, a true son of St. Mary’s County.”
He said naming the school for Duke makes sense, especially considering the county’s military history and the presence of Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
The St. Mary’s County Regional Airport at one time was named after Duke, and its terminal still bears the captain’s name.
The school board has received about 20 emails and a few phone calls in support of Duke, in addition to half a dozen speakers at last month’s meeting unveiling the proposed name and four during this month’s hearing.
School policy says the name “should reflect the unique instructional aspects or the history of the facility or site.” Historic locations or figures and people who have made educational contributions can also be considered.
Other names that made the short list included Heritage, McIntosh Run, Woodbury, Woodberry, Clarkes Rest, Newtown (or Newtowne), Joshua Barney, Mary Blades Miles and Hayden’s Heritage.