Updated: Apr 11, 2018
Lena “Lyn” Skaggs Duncan (a friend from school didn’t like Lena and said “I think I’ll call you Lyn” and the name stuck) was born on February12, 1924 in Derby, Virginia to Grover Cleveland Skaggs and Carrie Kirk Skaggs. Grover worked as an electrician and wired houses and businesses. She had 4 brothers and 2 sisters. She graduated from Pennington Gap High School in 1942 and attend King College in Bristol, Tennessee where she said she wanted a degree in “anything if it didn’t include taking a foreign language”.
Her dad had fallen ill around this time and Lena needed more money to support her family. She was working at a munitions factory in Bristol, Virginia at the time helping to load 20mm shells for the war effort. She said she was “only making about $32.00 per week and that wasn’t enough”. She told her dad she could make more money if she would enlist in the Armed Forces and she was able to send home $78 dollars a month and still have money left over each week. Approximately 400,000 women served in the armed forces during WWII and nearly 500 of them lost their lives serving their country, 16 in combat. As soon as she turned 20 years old, she joined the Navy Waves in March of 1944 and did her basic training in New York City. She said “New York was quite a sight for a country girl from Virginia”! On her first train ride, as soon as she stepped on, the train took off and she landed in an older man’s lap. He told her “they don’t wait for anyone to sit down, so grab the bar as soon as you get on next time”. Lesson learned. After basic training she was put on shore patrol for 3 months manning her post with nothing but her uniform and a nightstick. During WWII women were allowed to do almost any job except carry a firearm.
Lena was then sent to Washington, D.C. with the rank of SPQ 3 Specialist (Communications) Petty Officer 3rd Class. She jokingly said that she and “about 80 other women in her unit were in “Q-mmunications”. While Lena didn’t realize it at the time, she was most likely involved in the government’s top secret Venona Project which attempted to decrypt messages sent by Soviet Union intelligence agencies. All of the other women smoked and liked to drink beer – except Lena. They spent most of their off duty time “at the Pepsi Canteen across from the White House and it was a lot of fun.” Lena would meet her future husband Almer Doyal Barnes at a USO dance. He was from Merkel, Texas. He was stationed at Ft. Meade, MD and would see action in the Pacific Theatre. He asked her to “not get married until I got back”. So she waited and when he returned from Japan, he moved her to Texas where they were married on November 2, 1946. They had four children – two boys and two girls.
Lena’s husband Almer passed away in Jan. 1988 after 42 years of marriage. Her son, Bobby Skaggs Barnes was killed in an auto accident in 2006. She remarried on March 15, 1997 to W.L. Duncan from Buffalo Gap, Texas, and a former Navy Gunner on the U.S.S. Murray that was in several major battles in the Pacific theatre. W.L. passed away in April 2013.
She soon found out about the South Plains Honor Flight from a friend and was the only woman out of 143 veterans to go on the 2013 Flight. She had not been back to Washington since the end of WWII. She was supposed to be accompanied by daughter Wanda but she was unable to go and her other daughter Jody accompanied her. She said her favorite stop was the Women’s Memorial located at Arlington Cemetery. She couldn’t believe it when she was “wheeled in the lobby and there was her picture from WWII staring back at her”. She was both proud and grateful to serve her country. Our sentiments exactly “Lyn”. Thank you for your dedication to both your family and your country.
Larry A. Williams Veterans Liaison Co-Chair Texas South Plains Honor Flight