Hometown Heroes

Pilot & Autopilot: Couple Married 72 years Shares WWII Story

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LISTEN to John & Ruth Decker on Hometown Heroes
93-year-old John Decker of Merced, CA appears on the March 8, 2014 edition of Hometown Heroes, reflecting on a 28-year Air Force career. You’ll also hear cameos from his wife of 72 years, Ruth, who also served a unique role in the war effort when they were newlyweds.


John & Ruth Decker at Castle Air Museum, where he estimates roughly 1/3 of the aircraft on display are models he actually flew in his 28-year Air Force career.


















You’ll hear John remember being on a football/rugby scholarship at Long Island University when his father told him military pilots could make $120-140 per month. That sounded enticing enough, and he signed up for the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941. He had almost completed his training when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. At noon on December 12, 1941, his girlfriend Ruth Murphy pinned his wings on his uniform. Four hours later, she became his wife, and they’ll celebrate their 73rd anniversary this December. While John headed off to England with the 15th Bomb Squadron – the first American unit to bomb Europe during World War II – Ruth found a way to contribute to the war effort back home on Long Island.


Ruth Decker was a “Rosie the Riveter” at Grumman Aircraft during World War II.

Ruth went to work at Grumman Aircraft, and soon learned her petite build qualified her for a unique duty – installing the autopilot apparatus on TBF Avenger torpedo bombers.  The autopilot had to be installed while the aircraft was in flight, and Ruth was one of the only ones tiny enough to crawl under the controls and connect everything.

Among the incidents you’ll hear John discuss was a close call he had in training before he headed overseas. Flying a night training mission in Georgia in March, 1942, he had a treacherous landing. Listen to Hometown Heroes to find out what led to the photo below.


John Decker’s A-20 after he had to be rescued from the cockpit on March 3, 1942

After the Battle of Britain wrapped up, Decker and the 15th Bomb Squadron were shipped south to North Africa, where they flew submarine patrols over the Mediterranean Sea. You’ll some memories from his time in North Africa, as well as his journey back to the U.S. He spent the rest of World War II flying a wide variety of aircraft as a “tow target” pilot, allowing aerial gunners, anti-aircraft personnel, and even radar monitoring officers to hone their skills. After the war ended, he headed to Germany for occupation duty, and was still there in 1948 when the Soviet blockade of Berlin prompted the legendary humanitarian effort of the Berlin Airlift. You’ll hear about his experiences in the early days of the airlift, as well as other Cold War era duties he carried out before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1968.


John Decker retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1968, with more than 8,000 flight hours under his belt.

Out of the dozens of different aircraft models he piloted his long career, he has a definite favorite, and you’ll hear him describe it on Hometown Heroes. He’s convinced that particular aircraft played a major role in averting nuclear disaster during the Cold War, and it’s a plane you can actually climb inside at Castle Air Museum in Atwater, CA. Thanks to Joe Pruzzo, CEO of Castle Air Museum, for introducing me to the Deckers. I hope you enjoy hearing their story as much as I did.
—Paul Loeffler



John Decker as an aviation cadet in April, 1941.


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