Oct. 1, 1917 - Oct. 14, 2013
Paul Henry Durckel, 96, died peacefully in Houston, Texas, Monday, October 14, 2013.
Paul was born in Oakland, California on October 1, 1917. He graduated from Oakland Technical High School in 1936 and from Stanford University in 1940.
In March 1943, he entered the U.S. Army and very shortly thereafter transferred to the Army Air Corps, where he advanced to the rank of lieutenant and served as a navigator with the 781st Airborne Squadron flying strategic combat missions over Italy and Austria. During his 24th mission in March, 1945, Lt. Durckel, navigating for the entire squadron, was in position in the nose of the B-24 Liberator when the aircraft sustained heavy enemy fire and went down. Reaching for his parachute and finding it gone, Lt. Durckel crawled through the burning and fast-dropping plane to find the last parachute, only to discover that it had been damaged by fire.
Miraculously the parachute functioned and after diving from the plane, Lt. Durckel and the surviving members were captured by local villagers. Several of the airmen had been hung when a pair of German soldiers on patrol arrived, and ironically, prevented the villagers from hanging Lt. Durckel. He was taken into custody and delivered to a train bound for Stalag Luft III, a work camp in the German province of Lower Silesia. He was later transferred to a camp closer to the Swiss border, where General George S. Patton and his troops liberated him and his fellow prisoners of war. He was awarded the E.A.M.E. with 5 Bronze Stars, four other medals and nominated for a Distinguished Flying Cross Award. Post-war he was promoted to captain.
On December 11, 1946 he married Meredythe Jane Gardiner of Oakland. After the war he joined Best Fertilizers, which brought him to Houston in 1948 Vice President and General Manager. He was intrigued by the farming operations of the many G.I.’s he met in Reeves County, Texas while scouting a location for a new fertilizer plant. He purchased a farm near Pecos, Texas and raised cantaloupes, cotton and four children.
Durckel was a vice president with American Plant Food in Galena Park, Texas, from 1965 to 1969. He then moved to Gardnerville, Nevada, and worked as a real estate agent, broker and office manager. He enjoyed the “service above self” fellowship of Rotary International in Pecos, Houston, and Minden. He also served as a board member of Itronics Metallurgical, Inc. for many years.
He was preceded in death by Meredythe Gardiner Durckel in 1973 and his second wife, Jacqueline Hesse Durckel in 2006. His sister, Virginia and his brother, Ronald also preceded him in death.
He is survived by his four children and their spouses, eight grand children and five great-grand children: Kathleen Durckel Oliver, her husband, Rufus, their sons, Walker and Matthew and wife, Julie, and four children; Ellen Durckel Vestewig, husband, Robert, and daughters, Mary and Lauren Gray, with husband, Robert, and one son; Bridgette D. Schleicher Beinecke and sons, James and Paul Schleicher; Gardiner Paul Durckel, wife Janet, daughter, Meredythe, and son, Mason; his sister-in-law, Beverly Durckel, and daughter, Meg, and son, Cameron, with wife, Donna, and daughter.
The family wishes to extend its deepest gratitude to the staff of Holly Hall in Houston and especially to his caregivers, Mattie Guillory and Wallace St. Hilaire.
A memorial service will be held in Gardnerville, Nevada, at a date and time to be announced. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to a charity of choice or the Minden Rotary Club Foundation, P.O. Box 284, Minden, Nevada, 89423.
Acknowledgements or condolences may be sent to the Durckel family c/o Bridgette D. Beinecke, P.O. Box 4710 Austin, TX 78765 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. She will forward copies to her siblings.