Retired Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Bonnell delivers his keynote speech during Sunday’s Voices from the Stone ceremony. The program, sponsored by the Union County Veterans Remembrance Committee honored the life of local hero, Retired Maj. Gen. Oscar C. Decker. Decker was instrumental in the establishment of the Union County Veterans Plaza and Monument, where the event was held. (Photo submitted)
This year’s annual Voices from the Stone program honored the life of a local hero, Retired Maj. Gen. Oscar C. Decker Jr.
Although Decker’s funeral services will be held at Arlington National Cemetery on Jan. 23, Sunday’s program served as an opportunity for the local community to honor his memory.
Various veterans and community members spoke about Decker’s life, characterizing it as a testament to the love of country and tradition of service shared by all Union County veterans.
“I believe we have been given this precious time to mourn, remember and honor our friend and comrade,” Retired Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Bonnell said.
Bonnell, a friend of Decker, acted as the keynote speaker of the program. He shared anecdotes of Decker’s early life, military service and involvement in Union County following his retirement.
“Without a doubt, his life is the definition of selfless service,” he said.
In asking himself “How does one honor such a great man?” Bonnell said it was necessary to highlight Decker’s “unique legacy,” beyond just his Army career.
From a young age, Bonnell said Decker understood the importance of “Jesus, hard work and self-reliance.”
He worked in several capacities throughout his teenage years, including operating a food stand, delivering milk along a rural route and as a farm hand. He also worked at a gas station, where he developed a love for automotive repairs that would define his military career.
Decker’s military service began when he enlisted in 1943, a year after he went to the draft board and volunteered to take his friend’s place.
He then served for over 40 years over the course of three wars, including being stationed overseas eight times.
Throughout his career, Bonnell said Decker often turned down more prestigious positions in order to serve the Army where he could best. Namely, he was the Tank and Automotive Command (TACOM) commander for nine years.
There, he developed and improved fighting vehicles that are still used today, such as the M1 Abrams Tank, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Humvee.
His innovation was a major factor in the United States’ “decisive” victory during Operation Desert Storm and still informs current tactical operations, Bonnell explained.
“I believe he belongs on the same pages of history books as Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf,” he said.
Following his military retirement in 1983, Decker and his wife, “Babe,” moved to Marysville to be close to his parents.
St. John’s Lutheran Church Pastor Jack Heino said the couple continued their legacy of service long after his time in the military.
At St. John’s, the Deckers were on the building committee, the master planning team, the construction committee, were voting members and were greeters at every service.
“If the door was open, the Deckers were there,” Heino said.
Their commitment to service was felt beyond the military and church communities, as Bo Johnstone, Docent Director of the Union County Historical Society, said “his passage has left a large void” in Union County.
“He was a dearly beloved friend to many in this community for many, many reasons and leader in many, many ways,” Johnstone said.
Bonnell described Decker as the kindest and most altruistic man he’d ever met. However, Bonnell said he was a humble man who never sought recognition or glory.
“He was the real deal – there was nothing fake or put-on about Oscar Decker,” he said.
Regardless of his passing, Bonnell said the impact of Decker’s service will not fade and the community will always be indebted to him.
“His military contributions were so great, our country can never repay the debt… thus, all we can do now is say we love him, we miss him, and he will always be remembered fondly.”
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