WWII vet surprised parents upon his return

Army Air Corps WWII veteran Roland Decker of Southington served in the Philippines and Japan.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a weekly series published every Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans.

SOUTHINGTON — Roland Decker was young enough to still be living at home when his dad drove him from Nelson to Warren to begin his drafted service in the U.S. Army Air Corps during the aftermath of World War II.

“It was something you just had to do. So we did what we had to do,” Decker said.

Decker spent three years in the service driving trucks, mostly in the Philippines but also in Japan. He was honorably discharged in 1949.

Decker lived through a couple of close calls.

“One night in the bathroom, all of the lights went out. It was pitch dark. Then, ‘boom, boom, boom.’ It was so dark, I stayed in place until it stopped,” Decker said.

They were bombed twice while he was there.

Another day, he was taking a break with a swim in the ocean when he turned to look at shore and noticed he was a lot farther out than he meant to be.

“It was a rip tide. I tried to swim back, but I kept getting swept further out,” Decker said.

There were no lifeguards or boats to come help, just a few soldiers on the beach watching. Decker knew he had to get back himself, and summoned the strength and swam until he found himself back on shore.

“If I had known there were sharks out there, I wouldn’t have been out in the water in the first place. But a guy that could speak English came around and told us about the sharks, and that was the end of that,” Decker said.

The troops had a difficult time communicating with the local people, but sometimes the women came to the camp to do laundry for a little bit of money. And maybe a kiss.

They grew tired of a steady diet of lamb and mutton from Australia, Decker said.

As a truck driver, Decker said the seasonal rains were a pain. The downpours didn’t only keep their clothes soaking wet, but the trucks would get stuck in the mud and need a tow.

“In the rainy season you just had to stay wet. You’d go in and change into dry clothes. But then you’d be wet again. So we just got in the habit of staying wet,” Decker said.

Decker hauled anything the troops might need — bombs, aircraft engines, fuel and ammunition.

“Anything that could be shot at the other guys,” Decker said.

When Decker came home, his parents and siblings did not know to expect him, and he hadn’t seen them in two years.

“My father answered the door and my mom just about hugged me to death,” Decker said.

His collie, Renny, ran to greet him.

“I can’t believe he recognized me,” Decker said.

His brother, Duane Decker, who died at the age of 65, had returned from the front lines in Germany with a gunshot wound to the leg after participating in D-Day.

Roland worked at the Ravenna Arsenal, taking apart ammunition before driving semi-trucks.

He built his parents the home he now lives in. Around the age of 50, Roland married his wife Evelyn and grew his family with three stepchildren.

Now retired, at 94, Decker still mows his own lawn, drives and shops. He misses Evelyn. The two had 35 years together before she passed away. He helps family members work on tractors and other mechanical things — not by getting dirty himself anymore, but by giving instruction.

“I don’t miss that kind of life. I just came home and was glad to go to work every day,” Decker said.