A FORGOTTON HERO REMEMBERED
For the troopers of Bravo Company, the highlight of our 2010 Reunion was the presentation of a Silver Star and other medals to Chris and David Decker, the sons of Captain David J. Decker.
Captain Decker, Commanding Officer of Bravo Company, selflessly sacrificed his life on November 19, 1967, while attempting to rescue one of his men who had been captured by enemy forces during the Battle of Dak To. In a letter, dated March 4, 1968, the Adjutant General notified his wife of the posthumous award of the Silver Star for gallantry in action, Bronze Star Medal and the Air Medal. Unfortunately, someone at the Department of the Army made a serious blunder in March 1968 by failing to publish the orders for this Silver Star and the other medals. Consequently, Captain Decker was a forgotten hero for forty-two years because these medals were not listed on his headstone at Arlington, and his family was never informed of his heroic actions or presented with these medals.
This is one of those regrettable mistakes that should never happen and the troopers of Bravo Company knew nothing about it until we met for our first reunion at Ft Hood, Texas,
June 3-7, 2009.
Our first action aimed at correcting this grave mistake was to reconstruct the events that took place at Hill 1034, Dak To, on November 19, 1967. The witness statements from those present on Hill 1034 show that Captain Decker led two separate rescue parties to liberate his captured soldier. The first rescue party encountered strong enemy resistance resulting in one KIA and four WIA. Undaunted, Captain Decker organized and led a small group of volunteers in a second rescue attempt during which he was fatally wounded 10 meters from the objective.
Based on these witness statements, we prepared a well-documented recommendation for a combat valor award with a full description of the actions on Hill 1034. This was sent to the Department of the Army together with a copy of the Adjutant General’s letter, dated March 4, 1968. By the end of February 2010, we had received all the medals promised in the Adjutant General letter of 1968 and a new headstone was made that included all of the missing medals.
The next step was to present these medals to Captain Decker’s sons, Chris from Hawaii and David from Atlanta. They graciously agreed to attend our 2010 Reunion and we held an awards ceremony on June 4, 2010, followed by a banquet dinner for the 30 participants. It was a very moving ceremony involving Chris and David Decker, several of Captain Decker’s colleagues and many troopers who served in B 2/8th Cav. Although it took forty-two years to correct this regrettable mistake, we accomplished the mission of honoring and remembering the heroic actions of a very brave man, Captain David Decker. The troopers of B 2/8th Cav are firmly convinced that his two fine sons, Chris and David, learned a great deal about their father from his “band of brothers”.
Awards Ceremony Program
Welcome by Peter O’Sullivan
Invocation by Rev. Tom De Young
Speech by Peter O'Sullivan – see below
Ed Scholes read the citation for the Silver Star Medal.
Presentation of the Silver Star Medal to Chris and David Decker by the former troopers of Bravo Company or colleagues of Captain Decker.
The above procedure was repeated for the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart and Air Medal.
Remarks by Chris Decker
We had a professional make a video of the awards ceremony and copies are available from
We had a very enjoyable dinner together with Chris and David as our guests of honor. This was held a separate dining room with a bar.
During the dinner we presented Bravo Company Honorary Membership Certificates to Chris Decker, David Decker and Ed Scholes. Thereafter Ed Scholes held a speech and presented a small Bravo Company guidon to Chris and David Decker. Bob Patterson presented commemorative medals to Chris and David Decker and to several others. Al Hecker and Jim Beck held short speeches.
CAPTAIN DECKERS AWARD CEREMONY
SPEECH BY PETER O'SULLIVAN
For many of us here, the actions on Hill 1034 at Dak To on 19 Nov 1967 will never be forgotten and, in particular, the heroic actions of Capt Decker who selflessly sacrificed his life while attempting to rescue one of his men who had been captured by enemy forces.
For those who are not familiar with the details, Capt Decker was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for gallantry but, regretfully, someone at the Department of the Army made a serious blunder in 1968 by failing to publish the orders for this Silver Star and other medals.
Consequently, these medals were not listed on Capt Decker’s headstone at Arlington, and his family was never informed of his heroic actions or presented with these medals. We are gathered here today to correct this grave mistake, but first some background information and well-deserved acknowledgements.
Our tour of combat duty with Bravo Company was a defining experience of our lifetime but most of us pushed it into the background for forty years. However, two years ago we established a Bravo Company website and some of us met for the first time at a reunion at Fort Hood last June.
At this reunion, Al Hecker told us that Capt Decker’s actions had never been officially recognized with an award for bravery. Al had received this information from Chris several years ago and there was also a faint recollection of a letter from the Department of the Army concerning a posthumous award of a Silver Star and other medals.
Now I want to single out Al for his dominant role in launching this action on the missing medals. Al was an outstanding NCO, highly thought of by the members of Bravo Company, and known as a resolute and dependable trooper who would persevere in any course of action. His personality has not changed much since our time in Vietnam and once Al gets his teeth into something, he won’t let go. It was Al’s perseverance that launched this action and when we learned of the facts, his obsession with these missing medals quickly became “our” obsession. Al, on behalf of everyone here - a very big thank you.
As we did not know what evidence was available in the records, we started from scratch to prepare a well-documented recommendation for a valor award. We asked our guys for detailed information and received full support from those who were present with Capt Decker on Hill 1034 and who could remember the details on this action that took place over 40 years ago. Not everyone could remember the details, but those who could came forward and provided valuable witness statements. Digging into the events of 19 Nov was a painful task and many thanks for your substantial support to - Al Hecker, Fred Fish, Bob Patterson, Gary Stine, Henry Nylan and Ray Bono - all of whom are present here today. Based on this input, we prepared a well-documented recommendation for a combat award for valor with a full description of the actions on Hill 1034.
At the same time, Chris provided us with a copy of a letter, dated 4 March 1968, that his mother had received from the Adjutant General notifying her of the posthumous awards of a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Air Medal. We sent our recommendations to Washington, together with a copy of this very important letter from 4 March 1968. In this package of documents, we provided documentary proof that the Department of the Army had made a serious blunder
42 years ago and it was obviously their job to correct this grave mistake. Unfortunately, we received a bureaucratic and disappointing reply and I will tactfully avoid mentioning our reactions. After a cooling off period, we called in our heavy artillery by requesting the assistance of Ed Scholes, a friend and colleague of Capt Decker. Ed’s intervention got things rolling in Washington and within a short period of time, we received all the medals promised in the 1968 letter and Capt Decker’s headstone has now been changed to show all of these awards. Ed: a big thank you from all of us for your invaluable help on this very important matter. We also wish to express our appreciation for obtaining all the medals/tabs earned by Capt Decker during his military career which are displayed on the table here.
So we finally have the missing medals and the citations that tell us what your father did to earn these medals. What we are missing now are the reasons why your father acted as he did on Hill 1034. No one can answer this question precisely, but I am going to give you some good clues.
Your father’s position as Cmdr of an infantry company in Vietnam was without a doubt the most challenging and demanding command position in the United States Army. It was not made easier when commanding an airmobile company. The reason for this was that the 1st Cavalry Division was the fire brigade for the northern region and we moved frequently to different areas to combat large-scale enemy units. According to my calculations, your father participated in five operations of this type. These deployments to other regions were not only hazardous, but they also meant that we operated in areas where we were not familiar with the terrain or the enemy. The battle of Dak To was an example of such a deployment.
Your father’s position was not only demanding, but also extremely dangerous as confirmed by the following sad facts: In our battalion, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, we had four infantry companies commanded by four captains. We lost four commanders within a two-month period starting with your father who was Killed-in-Action (KIA) on 19 Nov 1967 during the Battle of Dak To, Capt Flatley was KIA on 7 Dec 1967 during the Battle of Tam Quan, Capt Berdy was killed on 26 Dec 1967 when his helicopter crashed, and Capt Wilcox was killed on 9 Jan 1968 when he stepped on a mine.
Your father’s position was dangerous for many different reasons, but here are three examples:
1. Wherever your father moved on the battlefield, he was always surrounded by three radio operators equipped with radios with 10 ft antennas sticking up in the air. Needless to say, these radio antennas pinpointed a top priority target for enemy forces.
2. Your father was often exposed to enemy fire because whenever there was a firefight, he always moved to the platoon in contact in order to decide on a course of action.
3. Your father participated in approximately 40 airmobile combat assaults and he was always on the first wave of helicopters. This is difficult to explain, but the apprehension and vulnerability for those on the first wave of helicopters was sometimes similar to what a parachutist must have felt during a combat jump during WWII.
As a Cmdr your father had many responsibilities but two were very important; accomplishing the mission and taking care of the troops. The Battalion Cmdr graded him on how well he accomplished assigned missions, but it was his troops who graded him on how well he took care of them. We are now going to focus on this last point, your father’s responsibility for taking care of his troops.
The key to understanding your father’s heroic actions on 19 Nov are the unique relationships that existed between your father and his troops. It is a well-known fact that very special relationships are forged between front line combat soldiers in wartime. The courageous actions described in Medal of Honor and Silver Star citations provide ample evidence on the factual meaning of these unique relationships. In Vietnam these special bonds were particularly strong in small elite units with high esprit de corps, such as, special-forces and airborne and airmobile infantry companies. However, it is important to remember that some companies had much stronger bonds than others.
During the Vietnam War, there were two different bonds between soldiers of an infantry company, one at the squad level and the other encompassing the company. Most research has focused on the special bonds at the squad level and these were based on entrusting others with your life. In short, the eleven members of a squad acted as guardian angels for each other and their golden rule was - “protect your buddies and never let them down”. Buddies formed the cornerstone of these special relationships, but it never included a Cmdr because a Cmdr had no buddies in his company. And if he did, this was a violation of the principles of leadership.
So we have to look elsewhere and the binding ties of a combat infantry company are often described using the term “band of brothers”. This phrase was coined by the famous playwright, William Shakespeare in 1599, to describe the special bonds between combat soldiers. Listen carefully to these potent words used by Shakespeare to define what he meant by “band of brothers”:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother
For the past four hundred years, this phrase has been used throughout the English-speaking world to refer to a closely knit group of fighting men, such as an infantry company. In our time, the phrase “Band of Brothers” is the title of a well-known series on Easy Company, 101st Abn Div, during World War II. This series is based on interviews with members of Easy Company and the Commander, Capt Winters. In addition to this series, “brother” and “band of brothers” are commonly used by Vietnam veterans today as a result of their shared combat experiences.
I wish to draw your attention to this use of the word “brother” because it is used here to signify a very special relationship equal to family or blood relative. Now if a company is a band of brothers, surely there must be a matching title for the leader of this company. And yes there was in “some” infantry companies in Vietnam where the Cmdr was known to his troops as the “Old Man”. The term “Old Man” has been around for a long time in the United States Army and is used by soldiers in “some” units to refer to their Company Cmdr. As you all know, the term “Old Man” is used with respect and affection to refer to a father or husband, and the same applies when it is used by soldiers to refer to their Company Cmdr. However, it is important to point out that this title was reserved for the exceptional Company Cmdr, particularly in combat. As in any conflict, our Company Cmdrs during the Vietnam War could be graded along a scale from outstanding and downwards.
Your father was an outstanding commander and he was known to the troops of Bravo Company as the “Old Man”. Your father did not receive this esteemed title just because he was an outstanding Cmdr, but because he was the OLD MAN in his actions, because his troops trusted him, because of their great respect for him, because of the way he took care of them and because of his superb leadership abilities. Thus, to understand your father’s actions on Hill 1034, you have to bear in mind that he was not only the Cmdr of Bravo Company, but he was also the “Old Man” taking care of his troops and that there was a very strong bond binding them together. Your father’s heroic actions on 19 Nov 67 is proof of his commitment to taking care of his men. He led not one, but two separate rescue parties to liberate his captured soldier. The first rescue party encountered strong enemy resistance resulting in four wounded in action and your father’s radio operator was killed in action. Undaunted, your father organized and led a small group of volunteers in a second rescue attempt during which he was fatally wounded. The Silver Star citation that you will hear shortly provides more details on these actions.
Chris and David, the essence of my message to you is that your father was not just the Cmdr, he was also the “Old Man” to the troops of Bravo Company and there was a network of special bonds binding them together based on their shared experiences on the battlefield. For an excellent model of your father in his capacity of Cmdr and the “Old Man”, I recommend that you make a thorough study of Capt Winters in the Band of Brothers series. Spielberg does a fantastic job in portraying the special relationship between Capt Winters and his troops, as well as exposing the good and the bad Cmdrs. But most importantly, I strongly recommend that you take advantage of this golden opportunity to talk to the folks present here who served with your father in Vietnam.
And now it is time to correct this regrettable mistake that was made 42 years ago and honor a very brave man known to Chris and David as father and dad; known to a few others here as Dave, our friend and colleague; and known to a large group here as Capt Decker and, affectionately and with great respect, as the OLD MAN.
In closing, it was a unique set of circumstances that brought us here today, this is a unique assembly of former troopers who knew your father, and we have decided on a unique ceremony for the presentation of these medals. The presentation of these medals will not be by an individual, but by all who served in Bravo Company in Vietnam or who was a friend of your father. So bear with us while we organize this.
This site is powered by http://www.milonic.com http://www.milonic.com/removelink.php