Veterans recount duck boats’ military use and changes made since wartime service

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Duck boats, once military vehicles mostly built during World War II, are facing new scrutiny after last week's disaster, even from veterans who once rode in them decades ago.

"Their lives were cut short. But they and their loved ones will never ever be forgotten," President Donald Trump said Tuesday about victims of the Branson duck tragedy.

The President was speaking to thousands of veterans at the VFW Convention. The tragedy that killed 17 people as the duck sunk Thursday on Table Rock Lake has been a topic of discussion at the convention.

Some of those veterans  in attendance had ridden in duck boats, not for fun, but during times of war.

"I rode in it quite a few times. They weren`t all walled in like these they were flat open," Ret. CW4 Don Kolesar said.

Kolesar spent more than three decades in the U.S. Army, including wartime duty in the Pacific. He was responsible for all of the command's equipment. That included the 2.5-ton vehicles made famous by the D-Day Invasion on the beaches of Normandy. DUKWs could transport troops on land and the water and would soon gain the name "ducks."

"If they would get swamped, which they could real easy, you can get out. You didn't have anything restricting your way to get out, and of course, we wore our safety vests," Kolesar said.

Military ducks have now been auctioned off to companies like Branson's Ride the Ducks, which have made modifications for tours to include canopies and plastic coverings on windows.

Kolesar said he felt like a trapped rat on a similar tour in Seattle when he rode a duck boat later in life.

Conversations at the convention have ranged from whether the duck boat should have been in the water that day to whether they should be back in the water again with their current configuration.

"Those were military guys riding it for a specific purpose, maybe crossing a river, not taking an hour-long cruise," veteran Don Jones said. "Even in wartime, I don`t think any troops would get on it or the military would deploy them (in conditions like Thursday) because only a wave 1.5 feet high would certainly come over them."