When Edward P. Dukich was growing up on Long Island, he recalled, nearly every adult seemed to work in the aviation industry, including his father, Edward C. Dukich, who served in the Marines before going to work for American Airlines at Kennedy Airport.
When the younger Edward was in third grade, his father took his class on a field trip to the airport, and ever since, Edward P. has been hooked on aviation.
“It was in my blood,” Dukich, now 64, said. “I just loved being around aircrafts.”
As soon as he graduated from Bethpage High School in 1974, he enlisted in the Air Force, and served as an aircraft mechanic in the 509th Bomb Wing at the Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire as the Vietnam War came to an end.
For his four years of military service and five years of work at the Freeport William Clinton Story Post No. 342 American Legion, Dukich was honored with eight other veterans at State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin’s annual Veterans Hall of Honor ceremony last weekend.
“I was so proud to recognize so many accomplished veterans for their dedication, commitment, passion, bravery and service,” Griffin said. “These men have served as an outstanding example of what it means to serve our country and community, and I was happy to recognize their achievements.”
Although Dukich knew that he wanted to pursue aircraft mechanics as a teen, he realized that attending college would prove too difficult financially, as he was the oldest of seven siblings. Instead, in the Air Force, he served in the Strategic Air Command as a KC-135 tanker crew chief and phase dock inspector.
The Vietnam War ended in 1975, but the Cold War kept Dukich busy as he maintained the fueling crafts involved in Operation Chrome Dome, which ensured that 15 fully loaded B-52 bombers were constantly airborne and ready to retaliate should the Soviet Union ever launch a nuclear attack against the U.S.
“We were part of the Triad Defense,” he explained. “We had the land-based Minuteman missiles, the nuclear-armed submarines and the B-52s that were up in the air 24-7, 365 days a year, and it was our job to maintain the tankers that refueled the B-52s in the sky. I was even told that the tankers should be ready to give up their own fuel to the B-52s if needed.”
During his service, Dukich amassed a wealth of aircraft maintenance knowledge and forged a career out of everything he learned.
In 1985, Dukich went on to work at the Grumman Aerospace factory in Bethpage, where he served as a final inspector in the major assembly division and helped build the replacement wings for the Atlantis space shuttle.
While at Grumman, Dukich found a specialty in nondestructive testing, which involves a variety of analyses to test materials without causing destruction. He eventually was certified to train others and consult in the field.
By 1990, Dukich moved away from the defense aircraft industry and into the corporate world at Garrett Aviation Long Island.
When the economy tumbled in the early 1990s, Dukich moved to California, and in 1993, he traveled to Saudi Arabia to teach NDT to a multinational workforce for the Saudi Aramco Oil Company.
After three years in Saudi Arabia, Dukich returned to Long Island and started his own business, Level III Resources, as a consultant, trainer and certifier in NDT.
Although he joined the American Legion Post No. 342 in 1999, Dukich said he was more involved in the Legion post in Bellmore than the one in Freeport. Then in 2015, he became an active member in Freeport, serving as the post’s first vice commander.
Dukich also chaired the last two Freeport Memorial Day tributes, this year allowing veterans to honor their fallen comrades in socially distanced ceremonies at the village’s Word War I monument and veterans’ monument outside the Freeport Memorial Library, despite the pandemic.
“Ed is invaluable to the post,” said Post Commander Ed Martin Jr. “He works tirelessly and is always pitching in to help when we need it.”
“It felt great to be honored along with those who served,” Dukich said. “After Vietnam, our veterans weren’t treated right, so it’s great to finally see them get the recognition they deserved.”
Dukich will chair this year’s Veterans Day ceremony at 10 a.m. on Nov. 11 at the Freeport Memorial Library, where the post will honor the late Sgt. Robert Hendriks, a Locust Valley Marine who was killed in Afghanistan last year, and whose mother is a Freeport resident.