Former La Plata County resident James Willard Decker died Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, at his home in Aztec. He was 89 and the last of his generation of the pioneer Decker family.
Known as “Mutt,” he was born to J. Elmer and M. Elise Butt Decker on March 9, 1923, in Kirtland, N.M. When he was 6, his mother died, and his father sent him to live with his aunt in Salt Lake City. He returned to live with his father and stepmother, Alvetta Decker, at the Decker ranch in the Vallecito Valley, where the reservoir now is located.
After graduating from Durango High School in 1941, he attended 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, Mr. Decker began piloting a P-47D Thunderbolt bomber, dubbed the Durango Demon, with the 523rd Fighter Squadron, 27th Fighter Group. A first lieutenant, he successfully flew 79 missions and was considered an ace pilot, his family said.
“His missions were to destroy telecommunications, bridges, buildings, and anything in sight,” his family said. “He would return many a time with his plane shot up to pieces. One time his whole wing was destroyed.”
Mr. Decker was also a ground escort for Gen. George E. Patton.
On March 24, 1946, he married Laverne Crangle in Durango. 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 Department, where he taught for a short time. He worked the rest of his life as a certified public accountant in Durango.
The Deckers retired and moved to Farmington in the late 1980s. After his wife died in 2002 after 56 years of marriage, he married Sheila McIvor on Aug. 21, 2004, at their home in Aztec.
Mr. Decker enjoyed woodworking and made each of his children a bedroom set of their choice. He was an avid gardener, and his family said his love for roses kept him young.
Recently, Southwest Airlines flew him to Galveston, Texas, where the Lonestar Flight Museum took his original Thunderbolt up for one last flight.
Mr. Decker was also preceded in death by his sons Thomas Duane Decker and James Edward Decker.
He is survived by his wife of eight years, 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. today, Sept. 4, 2012, with the family available from 10 a.m. to noon today at Hood Mortuary, 1261 East Third Ave. A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, also at Hood. The Rev. John Preston will officiate. Burial will follow at Greenmount Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Lone Star Flight Museum, 2002 Terminal Drive, Galveston, TX 77554.