Former Durango resident James Willard “Mutt” Decker died Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, at home in Aztec from complications of cancer. He was 89.
Known as “Mutt,” Mr. Decker was born March 9, 1923, in Kirtland, N.M., the son of J. Elmer Decker and M. Elise Butt Decker. His father sent him to live with his aunt in Salt Lake City at the age of 6 after his mother died. He returned to live with his father and stepmother, Alvetta Decker, at the Decker ranch in the Vallecito Valley, where the reservoir now sits.
He was a proficient horse handler and horse breaker, and herded cattle into Durango by himself at a young age.
Mutt went to the University of Denver for two years before enlisting in the Army Air Corps during World War II. After a two-week “crash course” in aviation, he began piloting a P-47D Thunderbolt fighter-bomber aircraft. He successfully flew 79 missions and was considered an “Ace Pilot” with the 523rd Fighter Squadron, 27th Fighter Group. He achieved the rank of first lieutenant. He also was a ground escort for Gen. George S. Patton.
Mr. Decker returned to the states and married Laverne Crangle on March 24, 1946, a marriage that lasted 56 years. The newlyweds moved to Denver so Mr. Decker could finish his accounting degree.
Upon his return to Durango, Mr. Decker was instrumental in the formation of the Fort Lewis College business program, where he taught for a short time. He then began to practice as a certified public accountant in Durango.
The Deckers retired and moved to Farmington in the late 1980s. Mrs. Decker died in 2002, and Mr. Decker later married Sheila McIvor on Aug. 21, 2004.
Mr. Decker loved to tell World War II stories, his family said. He would tear up every time and say, “She (the plane) brought me back many a time.” His patriotism and love of country continued as a passion throughout his life.
Mr. Decker also enjoyed woodworking and made each of his children a bedroom set of their choice. His heart was devoted to gardening, his family said, and his love for roses kept him young forever.
Recently, Southwest Airlines flew him to Galveston, Texas, to make his last wish come true to honor his military career. The Lonestar Flight Museum prepared his original P-47D Thunderbolt aircraft and took it up for one last flight. At the time, it is believed this was the only P-47 still flying. It was the happiest day of his life, said his daughter Vickie Clark. Mr. Decker was proud of his hometown: The logo on the front of his plane was “The Durango Demon.”
Mr. Decker was preceded in death by his first wife, Laverne, and two sons, Thomas Duane and James Edward Decker.
He is survived by his wife, Sheila Decker, of Aztec; daughters Renee Gallion and Vickie Clark, both of Farmington, and Jamie Lister of Salt Lake City; eight grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4, at Hood Mortuary; the family will receive guests from 10 a.m. to noon. A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, at Hood with Pastor John Preston officiating. Burial will follow at Greenmount Cemetery. A small reception will follow at 12:30 p.m. at the Durango Community Recreation Center.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Lone Star Flight Museum, 2002 Terminal Drive, Galveston, TX 77554.