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Duane H. Erickson '54


No. 19792January 11, 1932 -  February 22, 2016          

Died in Prescott, AZ

Interred at Prescott National Cemetery, AZ


Duane Harold ‘Leif’ Erickson was born in Farragut, IA, the youngest of three children of Carl and Neoma Erickson. In 1949 he graduated from Farragut High School, where a thoughtful teacher guided him toward West Point and away from the hardscrabble farm life he had grown up knowing. He attended Northwest Missouri State College for one year before receiving an appointment to West  Point from the Honorable Ben F. Jensen of Iowa’s 7th Congressional District.       

  When Leif entered West Point he was vulnerable to the usual farm-boy teasing, but his taunt-ending retort was to note that the great General  Eisenhower had also grown up on a farm! Leif quickly gained respect among his classmates as an affable, hard-working, and dependable cadet who was set on becoming a pilot in the Air Force. He was a member of the Ordnance Club, was a talented athlete who participated in baseball during plebe year, and was a valued member of Company E-1’s many intramural teams. During the Class of 1954 USAF orientation trip he led his company to a volleyball championship over the other 23 companies, and a classmate observed, “I think Leif could jump over the net!” That trip cemented his desire to fly, and he entered the Air Force upon graduation in 1954. West Point left an enduring imprint on his character and dedication. His son Steve recalls that “West Point shaped him; he lived by Duty, Honor, Country.”

   Leif earned his pilot wings following training at Bainbridge, GA and Reese AFB in Lubbock, TX, where he was kept on as an instructor pilot in the B-25. The latter was a rare tribute to his flying skills, as only the very best were so retained. While at Lubbock he met Jean Ballew, and they were married in 1956. Their oldest son, Craig, arrived in 1958, and their second son, Steven, came along in 1965. Throughout their marriage Jean supported her family as a dedicated Air Force spouse.

   The Ericksons joined the Ballistic Missile Division in Los Angeles, where Leif was protocol officer, then to Hanscomb Field, MA, where he was ADC to the commanding general of the Electronic Systems Division. In 1965 he joined a C-130 squadron at Naha Air Base, Okinawa, supporting the U.S. effort in Southeast Asia. He attended the Armed Forces Staff College in 1967 and went to the Directorate of Plans, Headquarters, USAF. After graduating from the Air War College in 1970, he returned to Naha as Deputy Commander for Operations for the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing until 1971, when he became Vice Commander and later Commander of Cam Ranh Bay Air Base, Vietnam.

   From 1972 to 1974 Leif commanded the 1100th Air Base Wing at Bolling

AFB in Washington, DC. His former E-1 company-mates fondly recall his hospitality, as some 20 years after graduating together Leif rounded up a dozen or so who were serving in the greater-DC area for a mini-reunion courtesy of Bolling’s best facilities. After attending the program for executives at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1975, Leif had another Pentagon tour as Deputy Director of Doctrine, Concepts and Objectives.

   From 1976 to 1980 Leif commanded Wings at Scott, McGuire, and Pope Air

Force Bases. In 1980 he was promoted to brigadier general and became commander of U.S. Forces in the Azores and the 1605th Military Airlift Support Wing at Lajes Field, Portugal. In 1982 Leif became Director of the International

Staff, Inter-American Defense Board, in Washington, DC, where he concluded

his exceptional USAF career in 1984 and was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal.

   Leif was a command pilot with more than 8,000 flying hours and flew 85

combat missions. During his 30-year career he also earned the Defense Superior

Service Medal, Legion of Merit with three Oak Leaf Clusters, Meritorious Service

Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, and Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters. He

was also decorated by the governments of Portugal and South Vietnam.

   In 1986 Leif began a 30-year marriage to Maureen Rose Mancini, and

they lived in North Springfield, VA. Leif joined International Planning and

Analysis Center, Inc. in Washington, DC, where he worked primarily on joint

base closures until 1993. Among other challenging projects, he flew the British

Edgley EA-7 observation plane across the United States in an attempt to introduce it to American markets. The Ericksons then alternated between homes in Florida and Virginia until Maureen also retired in 2006.

   After relocating to Prescott, AZ, Leif stayed involved in his community. He

became a role model for the Air Force Junior ROTC, providing career counseling

and attending their functions. He established an award for deserving cadets

that included a photo of a fierce-looking eagle and a challenge coin. He maintained an inspirational relationship with students at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University until his final illness took its toll. Fittingly, his son, USAF Colonel Steve Erickson, arranged an EC-130 flyby at Leif’s military funeral as he was inurned with honors as the ranking officer in Prescott National Cemetery.

   Leif Erickson lived a rich and productive life and was loved by many and admired by more, as evidenced by the number of friends and city, civic, and school officials who attended his funeral. His dynamic “can do” attitude coupled with humility endeared him to all who knew him. He embodied the spirit of West Point.

   May it be said, “Well Done; Be Thou

at Peace.”

— Chuck Wilson ’54 and family


Originally published in TAPS, Summer 2017

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