Vietnam War Army veteran Thomas Daniel "Dan" Duff, 65, of Great Falls, a retired civil engineer and Montana Air National Guard lieutenant colonel, died of natural causes Saturday at a local care facility.
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Arrangements are pending at Schnider Funeral Home.
Dan died early Saturday morning, Oct. 23, 2010, after a 17-month struggle with cancer. He was born March 15, 1945, in Harrison, Mont., and lived there until age 5, when the Duff family moved to Butte. He attended St. Patrick's Grade School, and then Boys Central High School until 1960, when the family moved to Great Falls. He attended East Junior High School his freshman year and graduated from Great Falls High School in 1963.
Dan played football for the GFHS Bison and was selected All-State center in 1962, the year the Bison won the Class AA football championship. He played in the East-West Shrine Game in 1963, and coached the Shrine game five years later.
With a football scholarship to the University of Montana, he played for the Grizzly freshman team, the Cubs, in 1963. In 1964, he transferred to Montana State University, where he played center for the Bobcats for the next four years (and the Cats beat the Grizzlies all four years). The starting center in 1966 and 1967, Dan earned Big Sky All-Conference honors in 1966.
He graduated from MSU in 1968 with degrees in history and physical education, and was commissioned as an Army second lieutenant. He and Paula Marie Eminger were married at St. Gerard's Catholic Church in Great Falls.
Dan reported for military service at Fort Knox, Ky., and completed helicopter training at Fort Walters, Texas. After advanced flight training at Fort Rucker, Ala., he was assigned to an assault helicopter company in Vietnam in 1970. Wounded by hostile fire in January 1971, he was hospitalized at Fort Lewis, Wash., for five months. Dan was awarded the Purple Heart for his wartime service.
Until his discharge in 1972, Dan was stationed at Fort Dix, N.J., where he and Paula were blessed with the birth of their daughter, Shauna Marie, in January 1972. The family moved to Maryland, where Dan joined the Army National Guard and continued to fly helicopters for the next eight years. During this time, he also earned an engineering degree from the University of Maryland.
Dan and Paula divorced in 1980, and Dan moved to Alaska, where he worked for the Army Corps of Engineers and later for the Alaska Air National Guard. He moved back to Great Falls in 1987, taking a job as a civil engineer for the Air Force. He also transferred to the Montana Air National Guard, where he was an officer for the civil engineer squadron.
After a nearly 10-year courtship, Dan married the love of his life, Vicki (Malmberg) Kuntz, on Dec. 27, 1992, at St. Luke's Catholic Church. After he retired from the Montana Air National Guard as a lieutenant colonel in 1997, he continued working for the Air Force. This satiated his love of travel, most notably to Germany, where he and Vicki lived in 2000, and then Hawaii, where Dan worked for Hickam Air Force Base for three years. One of his greatest joys was being able to share Hawaii with so many friends and family during this time, and the summers they spent in the years to follow. He spent his last two years back at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, where he retired in 2006.
Dan was a passionate man, especially when it came to Bobcat football, sobriety, travel, flying, and spending time in Hawaii and the outdoors. Dan loved spending time at the family cabin in Lincoln, working, relaxing and playing fiery games of cribbage. His other passion was flying - helicopters as well as fixed-wing aircraft - and he was very active in the GTF Aero Club as president before its dissolution a few years ago, when he and his flying buddies invested in their own plane. Dan logged countless hours in the 172 Cessna, flying around the state for breakfast and lunch meetings, taking family members for joyrides, and an occasional long trip with Vicki to visit friends and family.
Surviving are his wife, Vicki, of Great Falls; daughter and son-in-law Shauna and Mark Hyde of San Jose, Calif.; stepson Brock Kuntz of Gardiner; stepdaughter Kerri Kuntz of Sandpoint, Idaho; and granddaughters Helena and Juliet Hyde of San Jose, Calif., Other survivors include his nephews, Danny (Shani) Baker of Great Falls, Paul and James Baker of Helena, Kelly (Keila) Baker of Grand Forks N.D., Tom (Karlee) Duff of Missoula, and Eric (Kathy) Malmberg of Scottsdale, Ariz.; nieces Shannon (Kerry) Getty of Sauk Rapids, Minn., Teresa (Matt) Chapel of Missoula, and Wendi (Scott) Higginbotham of Renton, Wash.; Patty (Shawn) Bayless of Turtle Lake, N.D.; brother-in-law Larry (Cheryl) "Swede" Malmberg of Raynesford; sister-in-law Marla Malmberg of Spokane; cousin Bev (Del) Mahoney of Great Falls; and numerous other cousins.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Thomas and June (McKeown) Duff; a brother, Michael Duff; and a sister, Mary Kay (Duff) Baker.
Dan was a member of a 12-step program and was proud to be sober for well over 27 years at the time of his death. He also had a personal mission of visiting the sick and the imprisoned. Dan was loved by many and will be greatly missed.
Condolences may be posted online at www.schniderfuneralhome.com and/or www.gftribune.com/obituaries.
Published in Great Falls Tribune on Oct. 24, 2010