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Front Page August 11, 2006 

Passing the baton
By Natasha Derrick

Photo by Natasha Derrick Vietnam veteran, Bob Decker, adjusts his old Army uniform on one of the mannequins he plans to send to the 6th Troop, 17th Cavalry at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

It was Christmas time in 1999 when Bob Decker began to reminisce about his time in Vietnam. "I just got to thinking about my old buddies," Decker said. "So, I started the website."

In the beginning it was a very simple website dedicated to the soldiers who did not return from combat while serving in F Troop, 17th Cavalry, a reconnaissance unit.

According to Decker, the website took on a life of its own, reuniting veterans from around the country and spurring him on to research more of the history of the troop.

Decker enlisted in the army at age 17 and volunteered to serve in the war in Vietnam. His tour of duty was from 1966-67, and he retired in 1991 at the rank of Sergeant First Class. In 1972, the army disbanded F Troop, 17th Cavalry.

Thirty-three years later, Decker was delighted when he received the news that the military was reactivating F Troop, 17th Cavalry as 6th Troop, 17th Cavalry to be stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Decker received word from a member of the newly formed troop who found his website and asked for his help in compiling an extensive history on the 17th Cavalry.

Photo contributed by Lt. Col. Scott Brown Lt. Col. Scott Brown removes the casing for the presentation of the colors at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
With some help, Decker was able to discover that the F Troop 17th Cavalry was organized in July of 1916 at Fort Bliss, Texas, and later inactivated in 1921. In 1959, the 17th Cavalry was reorganized and later called to serve in Tay Ninh, Vietnam.

Decker began to gather memorabilia from his former brothers in arms from the Vietnam War. "I began to look around at all I had collected and thought What am I going to do with it all? " Decker said. So, with the help of his wife, Nancy, he began preparing items to send to the new 6th Troop, 17th Cavalry in Alaska.

Through eBay, Decker purchased enough items to dress two mannequins, one in the official outfit from 1916 and another from the Vietnam War. The 1916 uniform has authentic riding pants and leather leggings, while the boots and hat are official replicas. Decker donated his own jacket and pants to complete the Vietnam uniform, which includes a replica hat and standard military boots. It took about two and a half months to receive all the items, and now he plans to ship the mannequins to Alaska by Thursday, August 10.

The commanding officer of 6th Troop, 17th Cavalry, Lt. Col. Scott Brown, intends to display the uniforms in the headquarters conference room along with enlargements of photos Decker has sent him.

"Bob's gifts from the former troopers of F Troop, 17th CAV ( Vietnam ) will ensure that soldiers have a physical piece of the history when they walk the squadron headquarters," Lt. Col. Brown said. "Bob and Nancy are wonderful people and have embraced our unit in providing an active link from past to present." Lt. Col. Brown, a 1982 graduate of Spring Valley High School, was commissioned Second Lieutenant of Infantry right out of USC, where he received his BA in geography.

Nancy framed the guidon flag, official patches, and insignia pins to include in Decker's package to the troop at Wainwright. As a surprise, Decker will also include a songbook he found which belonged to a Sgt. Bert Wilson of the original F Troop, 17th Cavalry of the early 1900s.

Decker's purpose since the inception of his website has always been to preserve the memory of his troop and helping the newest 17th Cavalry is a big part. "It's an honor," Decker said. "I'll do anything I can to help the young soldiers to have a history. One generation passes the baton on to the next."

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