|Anita Dec HS Graduation Photo|
Born just five months after her parents' 1952 marriage, Anita Johanna Dec, was born to Hildegard Brandt born in Blasewitz, Seschen in Saxony, Germany (what during Anita's time in Germany was East Germany). Her family had lived in this area for several generations. Her father was from Poland and was a Polish POW of the Germans. He was liberated by the French. Both her father's and her mother's families were war refugees when they arrived in the US. According to one account of Anita's childhood in Bayonne, New Jersey, her parents spoke only Polish at home and she went to a Polish-speaking elementary school. Once she learned English, beginning at age 6, she was often her parent's translator. She attended Queen of Peace Girl's High School in North Arlington, New Jersey, graduating in 1970.
She went to the University of Pittsburgh for college. Her degree was eventually in Economics with a minor in Russian. According to her, she was searching for an acceptable alternative to the required physical education class, so she signed up for ROTC. Now this was during the Vietnam War and women were still attached to the all-women's Woman's Army Corps (WACs). The university did not even have uniforms for women cadets. Anita was a born leader, and by her senior year, she was a student commander. She was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1974 and entered the air traffic control field. She would later get her master's in aviation safety.
|Anita Dec in the ATC tower|
While at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, Anita was out to dinner with a friend who invited her to take the Mensa test with she and her son the next day. She agreed to go and in spite of falling asleep during the test, qualified, and spend the rest of her life as a member of Mensa, and even served as president of her local chapter in her last years.
We both worked at the 1st Combat Communications Group in Wiesbaden, Germany (Lindsey Air Station). It was a sprawling mobile unit that took up several buildings on the base.
One of our shared friends was 1Lt Patrick Cirgnani who was this stunningly handsome, witty and urbane officer and of course he was gay! We all smoked (egads!) and would sit around and smoke and joke. Sadly, this was the very beginning of the days of AIDS. The military had just started mandatory testing and many, many airman ended up being bounced out. Pat Cirgnani was one of them. He had been out in the field when they called him in and he left his boom box with Anita while he went back to HQ - he never went back to the field, instead, being sent back to the States for out processing. She never got to return it as he died within a couple of months back in the World. This loss was just the first of the many gay men who would lose their military careers and eventually their lives.
One of the great things for Anita is after having such a small family (her parents and a brother born when she was 10), she got to connect with her mother's family in Germany. She loved those visits and had a great time and even when she returned to the States, she would still fly back to Germany to visit with them.
She loved to shop - and anyone who was in the military during those days, the best shopping and eating was done in Berlin. In my first tour, I was not allowed to visit East Berlin because of my security clearance but during this tour, I had a lower clearance so I could go. I have my own adventures in shopping there, but I will keep this to recounting one of Anita's.
"She enjoyed shopping forays to East Germany where crystal, leather goods, handcrafts, and fancy gourmet meals were “dirt cheap.” She accompanied the wife of one of the civilian employees who drove a big Mercedes. The East Germans tended to contrarily delay traffic, so, to expedite passage through East German check points, they took Marlboro cigarettes and Sears and Penney’s catalogs to discreetly pass on to the guards. Their wives valued the catalogs to copy the clothing styles."
The food in East Berlin was amazing. You could go to a 5-star restaurant and spend, including wine, under $20 per person for a 7-course meal.
|Then Major Dec & her 1CCGP boys of ATC @1988|
One of the things most people did not know about her is she absolutely loved Rex Stout novels. Rex Stout was most famous for his Nero Wolfe books. We shared this passion and both held onto the entire set of his novels. Not many people share such an obscure love. She always got me when I made Archie Goodwin references. It's those little things!
Her best friend during her time at Lindsey Air Station was Capt Jenny Johnson. She was a snarky, funny, short little gal who always made Anita laugh.
Right before leaving Germany, she took advantage of the best dollar to Deutschemark conversion rate in a couple of years and purchased a sleek black BMW 325 to take back to the US. She would tool down the tiny streets of Lindsey AS far faster than she probably should have.
In 1990, during the Gulf War, Dec worked on the logistics of getting war planes from the US to Europe and then to the Middle East. Part of the objective was to coordinate fighter jets and refueling tankers. That work was done out of Frankfurt. During her career, she also wrote instrument procedures, or mapping technology, for aircraft.
"Years ago, it was really complicated, because we had to (write the procedures" by hand," she said. "It was very math intensive."
"At her last duty station, in New Jersey at the William J Hughes Technical Center, she helped develop and test new air traffic control voice switching systems. With all these credentials, when she retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, she was immediately ired for a civilian job testing air traffic control systems at the Tech Center."
She care for her elderly mother after her retirement in 1998 and her mother later died near her brother in 2005. Anita lived at her May's Landing address until her death.
Anita loved wildlife - and her cats. She became a donor to the Wildlife Center of Virginia in 2011 and eventually upped her donor game to participating in the Center's Caring for Critters program. The Center was also included in her estate plan.
Her very active life also include her membership of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 825, Township of Hamilto Historical Society, Atlantic County Veteran's Advisory Board, and was a regular participant of the Delaware Valley Mensa book discussion group and coordinator of the Atlantic County Menas monthly dinners for over seven years.
Having her friendship and seeing her bright smile meant a lot to me. She was tough, but tender. Smart like nobody's business, and very approachable to all who wanted to reach out before she could reach out to her. I miss her, but she sure lived a great life. Listen to her recollections left with the Library of Congress here:
"Air Force Veteran Skipped Gym Class, Found Military Career," The Press of Atlantic City, John DeRozier, Nov 11, 2016.
"Remembering Anita," Wildlife Center of Virginia, Oct 1, 2021, wildlifecenter.org Blog