Posted on July 3, 2014 at 11:28 AM
Jacob Batte / Houma Courier
It's been 70 years since Air Force navigator and Raceland resident Clyde Butler flew in World War II. The 89-year-old Texas native remembers his service vividly, from telling his parents he was enlisting in 1943 to being promoted to captain prior to his 1946 discharge.
He has documented his experiences to preserve them as his memory fades.
Butler says he volunteered to serve because he expected to be drafted.
“Rather than slosh around in the mud and all with the infantry in the trenches, I would go ahead and enlist in the Air Force,” Butler recalls telling his parents.
So, four years after Germany invaded Poland and a little more than a year and a half after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Butler enlisted.
He spent time in Houston; Emporia, Kansas; and Santa Ana, California, training as a navigator.
Next up were stops at Hondo, Texas, and Walla Walla, Washington, during which he was promoted to second lieutenant.
His unit eventually arrived in Kimbolton, England. While there, he was promoted to lead navigator and assigned to work in B-17s.
Butler flew 21 combat missions before the war ended 11 of which took place during the first two weeks he was there.
His squadron became known as the grand slam group, dropping more bombs than the others and with greater accuracy, Butler said. Their targets included railroad yards, airfields, bomber bases and other key industrial sites.
“Most missions were strictly just going in and bombing an airfield, bomber base, a factory, a dam or something. You bombed it and turned around and came home,” he said.
Butler was in London on May 8, 1945, when he heard that Germany surrendered. The city “came alive,” Butler said. “The crowd was so huge, you just had to go with the flow and try not to get trampled.”
But Germany's surrender didn't end Butler's time overseas. He took part in a “hush hush” mission into Barth, Germany, to rescue American prisoners five days after the surrender. The camp was Stalag Luft I, a prisoner-of-war camp. Some of the prisoners rescued that day included Bernard Barker, a Watergate burglar, and Donald Pleasence, an actor who appeared in the “Halloween” move series, the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice,” and “The Great Escape.”
“It was very secretive, a very quiet mission. They didn't want the Russians to know that we were there. We stripped the planes down as much as we could,” Butler said. “We took off one morning, real early from our base in England, and flew into France.
“We could bring home about 25 prisoners at one time. We got in there as fast as we could without turning the engines off,” he recalled.
Butler's wife, Mary, said her husband didn't speak about his time in the Air Force for many years.
“Our daughter got him to write everything down,” she said. “Until then we didn't know anything,” she said.
He has since contributed to both the World War II Museum in New Orleans and to the Regional Military Museum in Houma. When asked to reflect upon his war service, Butler said, “If I had known we were making history I would have taken better notes.”