Remembering Some Famous Military Figures Associated with Cobourg, Ontario: Father Francis P. Duffy

Posted in Cobourg Ontario, North American History, World War I at 5:57 pm by admin

Given that 2014 marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, it seems fitting to highlight several famous military figures from the First World War who were associated with Cobourg, Ontario.

Father Francis P. Duffy

Father Francis P. Duffy

Among the most notable World War I military figures intimately linked to Cobourg was Father Francis P. Duffy. Born in Cobourg on May 2, 1871, Duffy later graduated from St. Michael’s College in Toronto. Thereafter, he relocated to New York City, where he taught at St. Francis Xavier’s College and was subsequently ordained a priest in 1896.

At the onset of the Spanish–American War in 1898, Father Duffy served as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and also as chaplain for the 69th Infantry of the National Guard. Almost two decades later, when the United States entered World War I in 1917, Father Duffy accompanied the members of the 69th to Camp Mills, Long Island, whereupon the group was assigned to the legendary 42nd or Rainbow Division. At the time, Father Duffy was also named the senior chaplain of the Division. The 42nd Division owes its name to the Division’s then Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, who observed that the group, comprised of National Guard units from twenty-six states, “stretches like a Rainbow from one end of America to the other.”

In recognition of the intrepid chaplain’s heroic actions under enemy fire during a July 1918 battle,  the United States and France bestowed the Distinguished Service Cross and Croix de Guerre respectively upon the clergyman.

In the decades following World War I, the exploits of Father Duffy and his comrades captured the imagination of the American public. Their exploits even served as the basis for the 1940 Hollywood action-adventure motion picture, The Fighting 69th, starring James Cagney, Pat O’Brien and George Brent.


Father Duffy Square (i.e., the northern triangle of Times Square in New York City) in June 1943

Father Duffy’s indelible influence upon soldiers and civilians alike was also evidenced in May 1937, when a large statute of the beloved chaplain was unveiled on the northern triangle of Times Square in New York City.

Seventy-seven years later, Father Duffy still stands tall at the site, aptly dubbed Father Duffy Square.






Duffy, Francis P. Father Duffy’s Story: A Tale of Humor and Heroism of Life and Death with the Fighting Sixty-Ninth. With an historical appendix by Joyce Kilmer. New York, NY: George H. Doran Co., 1919. Available via Google Books.

“Father Duffy Dead; Won Fame in War.” New York Times, June 27, 1932, p. 1.

Internet Movie Database. The Fighting 69th.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (Image source).

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Father Duffy Square. New York, NY: The City of New York, n.d. (accessed January 6, 2014).

New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs. “42d Infantry Division Story of the Rainbow Patch.” S.l.: New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs, n.d. (accessed January 7, 2014).




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