I’ve Got a Secret – Tom Decker (1965)

Tom Decker

Indeed I was a “contestant” and appeared on I’ve Got a Secret on 4/12/65. My ‘secret’ was that I was a landed in a nudist colony on my first fire jump as a USFS Smokejumper in 1964. I was a 4th year college student at Concordia Sr College and worked with the Forest Service out of their Idaho City jumper base two short summers. The jumpers have heard the story about the nudist colony jump, but this is the back story of how the TV appearance came to be.

As a college student, I lived in a dorm on the campus. We had one phone in each dormitory and one day somebody answered the phone and hollered at me that CBS was on the line! Since it was April Fool’s Day, I figured it was a joke, but it turned out that CBS had heard the story from Stan Tate, another USFS Smokejumper. Stan had been on the “What’s My Line” show. At the time he had been a smokejumper and either a divinity student or perhaps he was already ordained as an Episcopalian priest. At any rate, they liked him and stayed in touch to find out if there were ever any other interesting things that the smokejumpers had done. He passed along my name with the three other jumpers–Pete Fallini, Harry Clark, and Julio Bilbao–who parachuted into the Paradise Valley Club “nudist colony” on Mohr’s Creek, above Boise, Idaho. (James B. “Smokey” Stover was the jumper base foreman who dropped us on the fire).

CBS called me because I happened to be the closest to NYC. When they ascertained that the story was indeed as Stan had told it, they wanted to know if I would consider coming to NYC to be on the show–if they decided to do it. I even asked the Dean of Students for permission, and he had no objection! They called back, and made arrangements for me to fly from Ft Wayne to NYC at the beginning of our Spring break. I got there and stayed at the Taft Hotel with one of my college friends who lived in NYC, and he introduced me to Greek food and the Copacabana while we were there. I remember they had a little drink named for the part of the city we were in: the Manhattan!

There was a rehearsal at the CBS studio on one day and they did the live show the next day at about 4 in the afternoon, walking distance from the Taft, if I remember correctly. They first show was live and then they taped a show. Morey Amsterdam was the guest on the live show for that afternoon. Of course, Steve Allen was the host and Bill Cullen, Henry Morgan, Betsy Palmer, and Bess Myerson were the panelists. They didn’t guess the secret even though Steve Allen gave them more information than I thought they should have had. So I won $80 dollars and had two nights in NYC! Edie Gormet was the guest star on the second taped show. She was very nice, and much larger personality star than I knew at the time. I also remember Mr. Igor Benson who had built what he called the Benson Gyrocopter, and he had one set up on the stage which was the bonus surprise for his appearance. Then there was the guy who worked on the set of the show who wanted me to come over to his place after the show, and he could not understand why I decided to pass it up!

The next day, as I was getting ready to leave the city and go to the airport, I went to the air terminal in downtown NYC someplace, and stood in line to check into my flight back to Ft Wayne. The man behind the counter looked at me, and said, “Are you THE Tom Decker?” I was very surprised when I learned that indeed he had seen me on the show the night before. My 2 minutes of fame!

Footnote. The last time I was at Idaho City was for the 2008 Smokejumper Reunion in Boise, and they took a bus load of us old timers back to see where we had lived during the times we jumped. Most of the stuff was gone, but I did notice on the way up to Idaho City that there was still a big chunk of lava rock with the initials: PVC. The Paradise Valley Club nudist colony has disbanded, but their rock is still there.

Footnote: I graduated from college and went on to seminary and was ordained as a Lutheran pastor in 1969 serving parishes in South Dakota. I entered the US Army as a chaplain in 1975 and retired from the chaplaincy in 2002. I retired from the active ministry of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in 2007.

Three other men in a fiery furnace–Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego–whom I hope to meet in heaven–have a much better fire story than mine!

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