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.
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.
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.