At 16 John Decates joined the Dutch Underground during WW II – Captured by the Germans, he was to be shot

I received a phone call from Betty Decates, the widow of John Decates, of Port Charlotte, Fla. She wanted to know if I could write a little something about her husband who died in December.

Who was John Decates?

At 16, in 1942, he was a member of the Dutch Underground along with his father and two older brothers, William and Franz. He almost got himself shot by the Germans while serving in the Underground.

In a letter written a few years ago to his 12-year-old granddaughter, Aliya Decates, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, he explained what happened to him as a member of the Underground during World War II. The sixth-grader wrote a paper for school about her grandfather’s exploits she entitled “Another Survivor.”

“The year was 1941. I was 15 and the most tragic event occurred. I will always think of it that way,” the letter notes. “The United States of America’s Air Force accidentally bombed our city, Nymegen, Holland. They were aiming for a city in Germany but missed. My family and I had to help other citizens clean up the dead peoples’ bodies and body parts. 35,000 people in our little city were killed. I hope no one will ever see another war like this.”

In 1942, German soldiers, dressed in Dutch Army uniforms with their tanks painted like Dutch tanks, rolled into town. The Germans didn’t fool anyone in Holland.

“At that time we had no fear until we saw the cruelty of war,” John wrote Aliya. “A small child, maybe 8 years old, made a bad remark to a German soldier. He turned around and shot the child dead. From that time on a hate for the Germans was born.”

His father and brothers were hiding out with the Underground and not around the house. However, he was still living at home. When he turned 16, he was told he would have to go to Germany and work in the defense industry. John wound up working on tanks in Germany until he escaped and joined the Dutch Underground like his father and brothers.

John and several other members of the Underground hid on a friendly Dutch farmer’s place. Unfortunately for them, another member of the Underground was captured by the Germans and told his captors that John and his buddies were hiding out at the farm.

John was captured as were his friends. They were marched back to the City Hall, 15 miles away, he wrote Aliya.

“The bunch of us were put in front of the City Hall to be shot by the Germans. However, the mayor interviewed each of us who had been captured and learned who I was and that he had once worked for my father,” John wrote. “He told the Germans they couldn’t shoot me and I asked him to spare the lives of my friends. They did and we were all sent to a German work camp.”

At some point John and his Underground friends escaped. They returned to the Underground and were still working for it when Canadian forces fought their way into this part of Holland in late 1944. He was 17 by this time. He immediately joined forces with the Canadians against the Germans.

“I received a bronze medal for fighting on the side of the Canadians. Aliya, I do not think I was a brave man. I was just a young boy, angry for what had happened and did what I could to help.”

In 1983, John returned to Holland for the 40th reunion of the Dutch Underground. At the meeting, he and his friends in the Underground were awarded special recognition pins by Prince Bernhard of Holland for what they did in the Underground during World War II to help the Allied cause.

On Dec. 23, 2003 John Decates died. He was 77. Nobody said a word at his funeral about the part he played in the Dutch Underground a lifetime ago. He died a forgotten hero.

“I don’t think that’s right. He was such a good man,” his wife Betty lamented.

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, April 19, 2004 and is republished with permission.

Click here to view the collections in alphabetical order in the Library of Congress. This veteran’s story will not post on the Library of Congress’ site, as the interview was conducted long before Don started submitting his stories for the Veterans History Project.

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John Decates, 77, Port Charlotte, died Dec. 22, 2003.

He was born July 30, 1926, in Indonesia and came to Port Charlotte in 1999 from Cape Coral.

He was the former owner of Eureka Saw Company of Mt. Carmel, Pa. He was a Catholic.

Survivors include his wife, Betty; a son, Andre of Orange Village, Ohio; a daughter, Anne Marie of Cape Canaveral; a brother, France of Neijmegen, Holland; and three grandchildren.

Services will be private. Larry Taylor Funeral and Cremation Center in Murdock is in charge. Memorial donations may be made to Hospice of Southwest Florida, 5955 Rand Blvd., Sarasota, FL 34238.

Published in Herald Tribune on Dec. 23, 2003 – See more at:


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