Deckert



Pfc. Henry John Deckert


     Pfc. Henry J. Deckert was the son of Adam Deckert Sr. & Maria E. Schoenwolf-Deckert and was born on December 11, 1917.   With his two brothers and sister, he lived at 220 South 11th Avenue in Maywood, Illinois. After graduation from St. Paul's Lutheran School in Forest Park, he attended Proviso Township High School.  At Proviso, he was a member of the Class of 1936.  After high school, he worked as a sander at a wholesale furniture company.

    On November 14, 1940, Henry entered the Illinois National Guard.  In September 1941, his tank company was federalized, and he trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and in Louisiana.  During this training, Henry qualified as a cook and worked in the company's mess hall at Ft. Knox.  Although he was trained as a cook, Henry still wanted to be a member of a tank crew. 

    In the late summer of 1941, Henry took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk.  None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there.  On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands. 
    From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and replaced.
    The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover.  The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands.  They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th for Guam.  When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water.  The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.

    After arriving in the Philippines, Henry convinced his high school friend, 2nd Lt. Ben Morin, to sign the papers that would transfer him to a tank.  Morin had just been commissioned a second lieutenant.  Knowing that Henry really wanted this, Lt. Morin signed the papers.  Henry was assigned to the tank of Sgt. Jim Griffin as the assistant tank driver.  The tank driver was Bob Martin, who was a high school classmate of Henry's.
    On December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  Two crew members had to be with their tank at all times.  The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.  They had received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky.  At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.   
    At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor,  the soldiers lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  That morning, they had been awakened to the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor just hours earlier.  The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, they thought the planes were American.  They then saw what looked like rain drops falling from the planes.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. 
    The company remained at Clark Field for the next two weeks until it received orders to proceed north toward Roasario. 
  Henry took the time, on December 12th, to cable his parent and tell them he was fine. 
    The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.   Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas.  When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.  Just north of Rosario, Henry's platoon engaged the enemy.  

    During the attack, the tank of Lt. Ben Morin was disabled by the Japanese.  Henry's tank attempted to come to the aid of Lt. Morin's tank which was under heavy enemy fire.  During this engagement, Henry was credited with wiping out a Japanese machine gun nest while manning his tank's machine gun.  The Japanese machine gun's position had given the Japanese command of the road. 

    Taking heavy tank fire, the remaining tanks of Lt. Morin's platoon attempted to withdraw.  Because of the terrain, the tanks had a difficult time turning.  As his tank was attempting to turn, a shell hit the bow gun at the ball socket joint.  The explosion from the shot came into the tank.  Henry's crew heard him groan.  He had been decapitated.  Bob Martin, who was sitting next to him, watched the entire event.

    Pfc. Henry J. Deckert  was Killed in Action at the barrio of Agoo on Monday, December 22, 1941.  He was 24 years old.  He was the first member of Company B, and the first American tank crew member, to die in World War II in tank to tank action.  Henry's body was taken by other members of the platoon to a Catholic church in Rosario.  There, after a short service led by the parish priest, he was buried.  

    Since Lt. Ben Morin had been taken prisoner on the day Henry died, he did not learn of Henry's death until Bataan was surrendered, and he was reunited with other members of the 192nd at Cabanatuan POW Camp.  Henry's death was something that Lt. Morin always carried with him.  The reason for this was that Henry was originally assigned to the company as a cook but wanted to be a member of a tank crew.  It was Lt. Ben Morin, Henry's high school classmate, and friend, who had signed the papers that allowed Henry to be reassigned to a tank.  Henry's parents received word of his death on January 19, 1942. 

    After the war, at his parents' request, the remains of Pfc. Henry J. Deckert were returned to Illinois on August 15, 1948.  On August 17, 1948, with full military honors, Henry was laid to rest for the final time.  Today, Henry lies, next to his parents, at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.

    Pfc. Henry J. Deckert was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

     It should be mentioned that Henry's two brothers, Adam Jr. and David joined the Marines to fight the Japanese.   David saw action in the Gilbert Islands, and after he returned home, married the sister of Henry Rusch who was also a member of B Company.


 

 


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