Retired Army Gen. George H. Decker, 77, a combat veteran of World War II who was Army chief of staff for two years before retiring in 1962, died of leukemia Wednesday at Walter Reed Hospital.
During his years as the nation's top soldier, he added to his reputation as a quiet leader by showing great managerial skill. He was an expert in making the Army's dollar go far, having served a five-year apprenticeship as an Army budget officer and controller of the Army in the 1950s.
Gen. Decker was deputy commander of American forces in Europe in 1956, head of United Nations forces in Korea from 1957 to 1959, and Army vice chief of staff before he was named chief of staff.
During the early months of World War II, he served in a variety of staff positions before he was ordered to the Southwest Pacific in February 1943. He rose to the position of chief of staff of Gen. Walter Kreuger's 6th Army.
In a war that encompaassed New Guinea, the recapture of Leyte, Mindoro and Luzon in the Philippines, and the early phases of Japan's occupation Gen. Decker earned admiration for keeping his cool.
Gen. Kreuger once said, "You could set a bomb off under his desk, and he (Gen. Decker) wouldn't turn a hair," Gen. Decker later said he operated under a philosophy of leadership that propounded, "There is just one thing: you can't be a nervous general."
Gen. Decker was a native of Catskill, N.Y., and a 1924 graduate of Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., where he earned a degree in economics. He was commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry later that year and began on a path that would lead him to the army's top post. He was one of the very few non-West Point men to attain it.
He soon achieved a reputation as a bright staff officer, first in supply and logistics and later in fiscal matters. He also had the common touch with his men. While commander in Korea, he instituted and played in golf tournaments that included both officers and enlisted men.
As chief of staff he pushed for modernization of weapons and stronger ground forces in Europe. After retiring from the Army, he defined the job of chief of staff as one that could be "an awful responsiblity. You have the buck in your hand and you can't pass it anywhere."
After his retirement from the Army, he was president of the Manufacturing Chemists Association in Washington for seven years before retiring a second time.
His decorations included the Distinguished Service Metal, the Silver Star, the Lgion of Merit, and the Bronze Star Medal.
Gen. Decker had been chairman of the Army Mutual Aid Society and president of the Army Distaff Hall and Army Emergency Relief Fund.
He was a resident of Washington.
Survivors include his wife of 53 years, the former Helen E. Inman of Washington; a son, James I., of Albany, N.Y.; a daughter, Jane Francisco of Atlanta; a sister, Dorothy Coonley of North Fort Myers, Fla.; seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society or the Leukemia Society of America.