Dominick Wallace heard the stories of his maternal grandfather. About how Herbert Evan Duquette, then an ensign in the U.S. Navy, was part of the D-Day storming of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
About how he disabled land mines on Omaha Beach, where casualties were heaviest because Germans fired upon the liberators from overlooking cliffs. About how Duquette was an underwater demolition expert. About how he became the commander of the submarine USS Redfin.
“Just hearing his story, growing up in a Navy town, being exposed to it kind of got my radar on what I wanted to do,” said Wallace.
A recent La Jolla High graduate, Wallace wants to join the Navy. On June 27, he leaves for Annapolis, Md. Two days later, he’ll be inducted into the Naval Academy.
Wallace plans to major in systems engineering. His goal is to become a Navy SEAL.
“Fulfilling my grandfather’s legacy,” said Wallace, who graduated with a 4.59 grade-point average. “Also, it’s my desire to serve my country. I want to be right there on the ground.”
Should Wallace reach his aim of becoming a SEAL, the aquatic portion of qualifying should not be a challenge.
Wallace — tan, blond-haired and honed with a swimmer’s lithe physique — has been a competitive swimmer since he was 6. Last month, at the San Diego Section swim championships, he won the Division II 200-yard freestyle in 1 minute, 38.29 seconds and the 100 backstroke in 49.94 seconds.
Both times were personal bests. His previous personal record in the 200 free was 1:40.30, meaning he PR’d by more than two seconds. His previous best in the 100 back was 50.49.
He attributes the Bob Beamonesque leap in the 200 free to intense dry-land work with a personal trainer. To simulate 200-meter discomfort, Wallace cranked out 90-second intervals on a stationary bike.
“To capture that feeling of complete pain,” he said.
The section individual titles were the first of Wallace’s career. Situated in lane five because he was the second fastest qualifier, Wallace had a clear view of nearby competitors and knew he had won the 200 freestyle. He didn’t know he had obliterated his previous best.
Asked to describe his emotions when he bobbed his head out of the water and saw his time, Wallace said, “Just pure excitement and joy.”
At 5-feet-11, 152 pounds, Wallace is not big as swimmers go. By comparison, Michael Phelps is 6-4 and about 194 when in racing shape.
“He’s not an imposing figure. He’s not a big, strong, giant-looking kid,” said La Jolla High swim coach Tom Atwell. “As unassuming as he looks, he gets over that hump by training just unbelievably hard.”
Said Wallace’s Wind N Sea Swim Team club coach, Paton McClung, “He seeks out work.”
Atwell teaches AP European history at La Jolla and taught Wallace.
“He’s naturally, I think, gifted with a strong intellect,” Atwell said. “He’s also very diligent about his studies. He’s a work first, play later kid.”
Both of Wallace’s parents are doctors. His mother, Anne Wallace, is a breast oncology and reconstructive surgeon. His father, Mark Wallace, is a pain specialist.
Since his sophomore year at La Jolla, Wallace joined his mother, delivering meals to the elderly in Old Town and North Park as a Meals on Wheels volunteer. He also participated in Project Mercy, helping build homes in Tijuana.
“I feel like it’s my duty as a healthy, able-bodied young man to give to other people who need my help,” said Wallace. “One old man wants to hear about the Naval Academy every time I go there. Seeing smiles on their faces when I show up, it’s just rewarding.”
Anne Wallace has been asked how she can allow one of her two sons to go into the military.
“All I can say about Dominick is he just woke up one day and said, ‘How do I become a special-ops guy?’” Anne said. “If that’s what makes him happy and fulfilled, I have to separate the worry and danger. Because as a mother, if you’re going to go there, you’re going to be hysterical.”
Anne said her father was quiet and introverted, not unusual for a man of his generation, particularly a man who was surrounded by gunfire and death on June 6, 1944. Herbert Evan Duquette was 82 when he died. Dominick was 5.
A grandfather and his grandson can grow close in that time.
Anne recalled when her father was leaving once. Dominick reached to him and said, “I love you grandfather Evan.”
“I love you, too, Dominick,” came the reply.
Said Anne, “Dominick was one of the few people my father could warm up to.”
Norcross is a freelance writer.
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