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The Suburbanite
  • WWII Then and Now: James Decker saw that historic messages of World War II were sent

  • The communications sergeant in the 1st Armored Signal Battalion was manning a message center in Casablanca, Morocco, when Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt met there for an Allied Powers war conference in January 1943.

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  • Jim Decker was a witness to World War II history.
    The communications sergeant in the 1st Armored Signal Battalion was manning a message center in Casablanca, Morocco, when Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt met there for an Allied Powers war conference in January 1943.
    “We’d get to see them in the hallways,” Decker said, noting that communications from the conference were kept secret even from most of the soldiers who were handling the messages.
    Decker saw George S. Patton, as well, as the general led his Seventh Army through North Africa and into Italy. His message center was in charge of relaying Patton’s communications.
    “We used to see Patton all the time,” Decker recalled, adding that he never talked to the general for whom he had great respect. He did salute Patton often. “You’d better,” he explained with a smile.
    And, near the end of the war in Europe, Decker was on hand when the American Army liberated the Dachau concentration camp in 1945.
    “Bodies were all over,” he said.
    BEGINS WAR
    Decker, a Canton McKinley High School graduate, had planned to go to college before he was drafted into military service. He was inducted into the Army on March 10, 1941. Training in New York, Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, and California meant he had gone on a journey in the military long before he ever went overseas.
    “We trained in the Mojave Desert for maybe a year,” said Decker. “We all thought we were going to be sent to the Pacific because we were right there on the West Coast. Then they loaded us up and took us to Africa.”
    Decker and his wife, Norma Margaret, were married before he went to war, when he managed to get a seven-day leave in 1942.
    “We had talked about it but hadn’t set a date,” said Decker with a smile. “When I got the leave, she had the whole thing set up. The church. The preacher. The rings. So, we got married.”
    The tour of duty that followed his wedding took Decker far from his new spouse — through northern Africa, to Sicily, up into Italy and then to southern France and Germany.
    The trip took him near the battlefields of Patton’s Seventh Army — to the side of Patton himself, at times. Decker also was given sobering glimpses at why wars are fought. Coal cars at Dachau, he said, “were so full of bodies that they were falling off.”
    WAR LINGERS
    Decker returned after the war to raise his family, which included two sons, Jim and Tim. He worked for Sugardale from 1950 until he retired in 1986. His wife passed away about a decade ago.
    Page 2 of 2 - Decades after World War II, vestiges remain of Decker’s service — for example, the rings he had made at various places he was stationed.
    He still has a letter of commendation that praised members of Decker’s unit for their communications efforts at the Casablanca conference. In another letter to the Seventh Army, Gen. Patton said that “every man in the Army deserves equal credit” for the invasion of southern Europe.
    The citation for the Bronze Star that Decker earned provides evidence of his “meritorious service” in Italy and  southern France in 1944. Decker “directed and supervised the handling of vital operational traffic (messages),” the citation said, “despite the many obstacles presented by the rapid advance of the Seventh Army.”
    In the manner of many World War II veterans, Decker shrugs at the mention of such things. Maintaining a path of communication between officers and their fighting men was his job, he says.
    “As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t do anything,” Decker said. “We had to keep the communications with them and let them know where the troops were.
    “I honor the medal, but I didn’t wear it.”
    Perhaps the most vivid example of his contribution to the Allied victory in World War II came a few years ago, as he was walking for exercise at a mall. Another man came up to him and asked if he wanted company on his walk.
    Their ties turned out to be more than companionship.
    The man had been a prisoner at Dachau when American troops had liberated the camp.