Olathe Gold Star mom reflects on son’s death during first Veterans Day since end of Afghanistan war

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OLATHE, Kan. — A Gold Star mother from Olathe is speaking out on the first Veterans Day following the official end to the war in Afghanistan. A war in which her 21-year-old son, along with 29 others, were killed on what would be the deadliest day in the 20-year conflict.

Spencer Duncan, a graduate of Olathe South High School, died in 2011 when a Chinook helicopter was shot down during an overnight mission.

Reflections on his life were shared Thursday in Johnson County during their official holiday ceremonies. This year there was a bigger emphasis put on the war in Afghanistan following its official end in August of this year.

The war was described as intergenerational and involving some of America’s youngest veterans, millennials and people from Generation Z.

It has been just more than 10 years since Army Specialist Spencer Duncan was killed in action, and it’s been less than three months since the end of the war in which he died.

His mother, Megan Duncan, has for years spoken about the impact.

“When our doorbell rang and there were two uniformed officers standing at our door to tell us that our son was gone and every day since then we’ve become increasingly more aware of the price of our freedom,” Duncan said during speech at the Johnson County Veterans Day observance.

Richard “Tank” Sherman, a unit commander at the time, said he remembered learning about the Chinook helicopter that was flown into range of a person who took a shot at the noise.

“The shoot-down happened. I kind of wasn’t hearing anything so we called the rear detachment commander. I said ‘Hey, everything OK?’ And he just kind of had a curt answer and that’s when I knew that it was probably one of ours,” Sherman said.

The complex conversations about Afghanistan continue as well as veterans’ understanding of their mission.

“While we were in that country, they were too focused on us, the troops, to go project their power or do anything else. And the problem with that mission is that people don’t see the success because nothing’s happened,” Sherman said.

“We owed the Afghans a chance. And them being over there fighting the Taliban gave the Afghans their chance. And just cause they couldn’t cross the finish line — you gave them the chance to fail but you still felt you owed them the chance,” Sherman said.

Earlier this year a hangar at New Century Air Center outside of Gardner was renamed for Bryan Nichols, a pilot killed in the same incident that killed Spencer Duncan.

He was born in Hays, Kansas, and lived in Kansas City. He was also honored at Thursday’s event.

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