Kenneth J. Duckworth, war hero, lawyer and teacher

Kenneth J. Duckworth
Kenneth J. Duckworth
Posted: July 09, 2010

KENNETH J. DUCKWORTH took Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore with him wherever he went in a long life of adventure, accomplishment and danger.

A native Philadelphian, Ken never forgot his hometown or the summers he spent in Ocean City, N.J., even through his many careers, including as a decorated Air Force pilot in the Vietnam War, as a pilot for rescue missions in the Atlantic, as a prominent lawyer and as a teacher of special-needs children.

Ken Duckworth, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, was killed Flag Day, June 14, in an auto accident near his home in Broward County, Fla. He was 69.

In 1967 and 1968, the height of the Vietnam War, Ken flew search-and-rescue missions in support of Marines at the battle of Khe Sanh, as well as interdiction operations on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and other hot spots.

Besides flying the CH-3 "Jolly Green Giant" helicopter on these missions, he also flew B-47 nuclear bombers and C-130 transport planes. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism and two Air Medals.

After the war, Ken served with the 301st Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Homestead Air Force Base in South Florida.

From 1971 to 1990, he trained in water survival and participated in search-and-rescue operations, including after the crash of Eastern Airlines Flight 401 in the Florida Everglades in 1972, which killed 101 people.

He also participated in retrieving ill passengers from cruise ships and supporting space-shuttle launches. It was estimated that he was responsible for saving the lives of at least 29 people, his family said.

Ken then decided to enter the legal profession and received his juris doctorate from the University of Miami Law School in 1972.

He specialized in criminal law in Broward and Dade counties for more than 25 years. He provided free legal assistance to the victims of Hurricane Andrew, a powerful Category 5 storm that struck southern Florida and Louisiana in 1992.

He also was involved in the defense team that represented the seven defendants in the sensational 1993 murder of Bobby Kent, a case that led to a book, Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge, and a 2001 movie, "Bully."

In later years, Ken found satisfaction in serving as a substitute teacher in Broward County schools, specializing in helping special-needs children in middle schools.

Ken was born in Philadelphia to Stanley and Regina Duckworth. He attended St. Joseph's Prep before entering the U.S. Naval Academy, from which he graduated in 1962. He was commissioned in the Air Force and served 28 years of active and reserve duty.

He always remembered spending every summer of his childhood in Ocean City and often returned for visits.

He was a lifelong Phillies fan and came back to Philadelphia for the Dad Vail Regatta and the Army-Navy football game. He was a rower and also participated in marathons.

His family said Ken "approached life with great humor, optimism and compassion." His niece Bobbi Tumelty Kelly said: "It is the laughter I will miss the most. He loved life so much he would belly laugh before a joke was even over. I am proud to call him my uncle."

He also is survived by his wife of 45 years, Joan; two sons, Kenneth and Eric; a daughter, Rebecca; two sisters, Jane Becker and Denise Tumelty; and four grandchildren.

Services: Memorial service was held June 22 in Davie, Fla. Burial will be at the Naval Academy. Donations in his name may be made to the Naval Academy Foundation, 25 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, MD 21401, or St. Joseph's Prep, 1733 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia 19130.

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