Harold "Hal" Decker
Lieutenant Colonel, USAF
Lieutenant Colonel Harold “Hal” Decker was born on December 29, 1916 on a farm in Hedrick, Iowa. After graduating as his high school’s valedictorian in 1934, Decker enrolled at Northeast Missouri State Teachers’ College. Lacking the funds to complete the program but determined to finish, Decker taught the sixth grade and drove a school bus to save money to return to school. His determination paid off, and he graduated in 1940 with a degree in business education. After getting his degree, he started teaching business at the local high school in Centralia, Missouri, and met his wife to be, Lura Ann Renie.
Decker joined the war effort, enlisting in the Army in June of 1941. He began flight training in December 1941, received his wings in June 1942 and flew his first mission in December 1942. On January 31, 1943, Decker’s plane was hit by enemy fire while on an escort mission. His plane was powerless, but Decker managed to land in mud flats in enemy territory. As he tried to get back into allied territory, Decker was taken prisoner and found himself at Stalag Luft III.
It was here that the “X” Committee was established by prisoners to organize escape attempts, immortalized in the movie, “The Great Escape.” These prisoners continued to serve their country even in captivity. As part of these efforts, Decker received a radio smuggled in by the Red Cross that he used to listen to British broadcasts so prisoners could be informed by more than just German propaganda.
It was late in January 1945 when Stalag Luft III was evacuated and all prisoners were transported to a camp in Munich. In April, his prison camp was liberated. Decker was back in the United States by the end of May.
Decker received a Bronze Star for his heroism and meritorious service in the war and as a P.O.W. Within 90 days of his return from Germany, Decker married Lura Ann. He was given a regular commission in 1947, primarily focusing on administrative duties but still with some flight duties.
In 1951, he enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh and graduated in 1952 with a master’s in Industrial Management. Decker retired from the army in 1965 and moved to Auburn, Alabama, working at Auburn University as an assistant professor in Aerospace Engineering. Decker eventually retired from Auburn University as an Associate Professor Emeritus of Aerospace Engineering.
The Harold R. Decker Endowed Scholarship in Aviation Management at Auburn University now targets students who, like Colonel Decker, exhibit service to school, community and Country. Decker not only loved teaching at Auburn, but loved serving others. Whether it was acting in the leadership of Kiwanis, serving as an Elder at Village Christian Church, presiding on the Board of Review for Boy Scout Troop 30 or reading to preschool students in Loachapoka, Decker always found time to serve. People came to expect to find him working events like the Kiwanis Pancake breakfast and City of Auburn swim meets as predictably as they could find him walking his three miles daily around the streets of Auburn. Of his post-military service, Decker’s son John said, “Dad is my favorite American Hero, but his post-war service is what taught me the most.”
Lieutenant Colonel Harold “Hal” Decker died on August 29, 2009. We are thankful for his service to our country and our community. Hal Decker truly is one of Auburn’s Heroes Remembered.