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CMSgt. Duane D. Hackney, USAF, Retired

Duane Hackney


CMSgt. Duane D. Hackney, a native of Flint, was a United States Air Force Pararescueman who volunteered for duty during Vietnam. His job was to be lowered into the jungle to look for survivors of downed aircraft, provide them medical treatment, and then rescue them. Hackney was wounded by taking a .30 caliber slug to his leg on his first rescue mission... but he did not report the incident to avoid being grounded.

He flew more than 200 combat rescue missions during three tours of Vietnam and survived as a passenger in five helicopters that were shot down.

Hackney was awarded 28 decorations for valor in combat and more than 70 awards and decorations in all including four Distinguished Flying Crosses, 18 Air Medals, a Silver Star, a Purple Heart and the Air Force Cross.

Embraced as a hero upon his return from Vietnam in 1967, Hackney had a speaking part on an episode of "I Dream of Genie," and was interviewed on "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tonight Show," "The Joey Bishop Show" and even appeared as a bachelor on "The Dating Game."

In 1967, Hackney and his family were flown to Washington, D.C. for a ceremony in which he received the Cheney Award. He left active duty in 1973 but enlisted again four years later and returned to duty as a pararescue instructor.

He continued his pararescue career until a 1980 training accident grounded him when he fell 90 feet while working on sheer ice on a mountain in Europe. Hackney retired from the Air Force as Chief Master Sergeant in 1991 to manage a security firm. He is still the most decorated enlisted man in Air Force history.

Hackney died at age 46 in 1993. Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio named its training facility after him. His story is also featured in Air Force training manuals.

Duane Hackney was enshrined into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on April 18, 2009.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program