Coach Joe Duff served with my grandfather in the 313th Machine Gun Battalion, 80th Division, during World War I. Although Duff was drafted into the Army as a private, he was truly destined to lead men. Unfortunately, like so many brilliant young men of their time, his life was cut short in the killing fields of the Meusue-Argonne.
Duff was a 1912 graduate of Princeton University. He enjoyed a stellar career playing varsity football for Princeton and was voted a 1911 All-American. In 1913 the Pittsburgh Press reported him to be the “best guard in football history.” Duff played nearly every position on the Princeton football team except quarterback. After graduation he was asked to stay on at Princeton to serve as an assistant football coach. The following year he received an offer to become head football coach at the University of Pittsburgh. Duff delivered two winning seasons for Pitt in 1913 and 1914. Following the 1914 season, Pitt found an opportunity to hire legendary coach Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner, who would bring Pitt a National Championship in 1915. That same year Duff obtained his Law Degree from the University of Pittsburgh and started work in his brother’s law firm in Pittsburgh.
|Coach Joe Duff, "The Owl" 1915|
It’s unclear why Duff was not commissioned an officer before his entry into the Army. At the time of the national draft registration, Duff was already a college graduate. He enlisted in the Military Training Association, and was situated at the Reserve Officers Training Camp at Fort Niagara in June 1917. At the end of his training at Fort Niagara, NY he was not assigned to a specialized unit as many of the other candidates listed on the roster. It’s possible his later role as an attorney for the Justice Department delayed his commission as he was tasked with assisting in the prosecution of men who were at the time attempting to evade the draft.
His role as a government attorney, however, would not keep him from being drafted. Duff was inducted into the Army in March 1918 and sent to Camp Lee VA to join the 313th Machine Gun Battalion that sailed for France in May 1918. During his time with the battalion, he would be promoted to a Corporal and then a Sergeant. His commission as a 2nd Lieutenant came on September 30, 1918, just as the Meusue-Argonne offensive was beginning in France. This promotion would transfer him out of the 313th M.G.B. His new commission tasked him with leading a machine gun company in the 32nd Division, 125th Infantry.
After only ten days of receiving his commission, Joseph Miller Duff Jr. was killed at the age of 29 while fighting in Gesnes-en-Argonne. His body would be buried in a temporary grave site in Dur-sur-Meuse, France. His brother, Captain George M Duff, a Chaplain in the 305th Infantry, also serving in France, sent a telegram back home to his father Rev. Joseph M. Duff Sr. advising the family of the death of their son. Local papers reported the death of the Pitt coach and former football star who was beloved by so many. Duff’s body was returned to the United States and is buried in the Chartiers Cemetery in Carnegie PA.
His brother James H. Duff (1883-1969) would later become a prominent figure in Pennsylvania politics and served as the 34th Governor of Pennsylvania from 1947-1951 and also a United States Senator from Pennsylvania 1951-1957.