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Life Arts

How a WW2 Twist of Fate Saved my Dad

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Ralph Butler in Italy, age 21. by Photo courtesy Ralph Butler.

My dad, Ralph Butler, is a member of a rare breed: he is a WW2 veteran. At 90 years old, he's still smart, clever, funny and active, and he's outlived all the other males in his family.  He's also been lucky. And he was well-fed by my mom, who was a great cook - - and who, along with her Aunt Dixie, was touting health foods long before they were popular.  He always said he married Mom for her fabulous chocolate cake, which, he complains, she stopped making after the wedding. But maybe that's his secret to being one of just a million WW2 veterans left. And that number gets smaller by about 600 every day.

Ralph Butler, age 90, still standing 6'2.. by Meryl Ann Butler

At the end of WW2 there were over 16 million veterans. But in the early 1940's there was hardly even an American military - at the beginning of the decade, the US Army ranked 17th in the world, after Romania. And there wasn't a separate Air Force, yet.

After Dad received his letter of "Greetings" from President Roosevelt, he joined the Army Air Corps because he wanted to be a pilot -- but colorblindness kept him on the ground.

In Corsica he debriefed recon pilots. They were flying the fastest planes in the sky, and carried no guns -- their only defense was speed. One day Dad debriefed a pilot who had come back pretty shaken up. The wide-eyed fellow said that while he was flying at top speed, a German plane passed him "like I was going backwards." That pilot had witnessed his first jet engine in operation. Lucky for him, the experimental jet didn't carry guns either.

Cover of publication by the 4th Photo Tech Squadron, Bari, Italy by Public domain

In August of 1944, Dad was flown to Italy in order to join the 4th Photo Tech Squadron in Bari. He flew in an unpressurized plane, and remembers that he passed out at 12,000 feet. I guess it's a good thing he wasn't the pilot! He was  shocked when they landed in Florence -- he didn't know the Allies had taken it until someone told him it had been liberated just two days earlier. 
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In Bari, Dad read recon photos, many taken by Col. Karl Polifka, who had flown over 125 missions by the age of 33. Polifka had the reputation of being the "most outstanding reconnaissance pilot of WWII,"  and went on to fly missions in Korea. 

Col. Karl Polifka by Public domain

Many of the photos Dad wrote reports on were aerial views of Dachau. Of course,  he was making note of supplies being transported. At that time, no one knew what was going on in the buildings that were marked with the red crosses.

Dad's a member of another rare breed, too, due to a brush with fate that happened just before he got to the Mediterranean.

In early 1944, Dad was stationed at Will Rogers Field in Oklahoma City, with the 32nd Photo Recon Squadron. It was part of the 5th Photo Recon Group in the 15th Air Force, which consisted of the 32nd as well as the 15th Photo Recon Squadron and the 4th Photo Tech Squadron.
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Emblem of the 15th Air Force of the United States Army Air Corps by Public domain via wiki

Every Wednesday night at 9 pm he'd phone his parents in New York for a highly anticipated three-minute long-distance call. His fiance, Florence "Johnnie" Johnson  always had dinner with them on Wednesdays so they could all have a chance to talk to him. 

When Dad got a furlough in March of 1944, he planned a complex coordination of train connections that would take him from Oklahoma through Chicago and on to New York, putting him at his parents' house at just the right time to surprise them while they awaited his phone call. It took a couple of days of travel time, and a fair amount of walking, but to his delight the surprise worked!

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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)

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What a beautiful tribute to your father for Vetera... by Amy Schreiner on Saturday, Nov 9, 2013 at 10:40:28 PM
Thanks, Amy! It was fun to write, and especially r... by Meryl Ann Butler on Saturday, Nov 9, 2013 at 11:12:36 PM
Nice one, Meryl AnnA thoughtful, one-of-a kind gif... by Joan Brunwasser on Saturday, Nov 9, 2013 at 11:41:18 PM
Thanks, Joan! ... by Meryl Ann Butler on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 at 12:48:40 AM
Beautiful, Meryl Ann.  Thanks for the memorie... by Sheila Samples on Saturday, Nov 9, 2013 at 11:58:17 PM
haha, thanks Sheila, I will!   😄... by Meryl Ann Butler on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 at 12:49:15 AM
Meryl Ann, Very touching story and theme! Yes, it ... by Nimueh Rephael on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 at 12:44:20 AM
I love that you can see a resemblance in the photo... by Meryl Ann Butler on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 at 12:50:26 AM
Your father sounds like a great guy. I miss my fat... by Mark Whittington on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 at 3:10:15 AM
Thanks Mark! These are great comments to muse... by Meryl Ann Butler on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 at 9:37:08 AM
What a wonderful sharing!I love the serendipity of... by Tsara Shelton on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 at 10:05:38 AM
Thanks, Tsara!  So glad you enjoyed my little... by Meryl Ann Butler on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 at 10:12:16 AM
Cheers to your Dad, Ms. Butler! It could have been... by Ad Du on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 at 10:06:17 AM
Wow, thanks for all that fascinating info!No, Dad ... by Meryl Ann Butler on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 at 10:26:14 AM
Oh, but this country is now safe, for it's now on ... by Ad Du on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 at 11:11:58 AM
(Oh, I wasn't done, Ms. Butler! Please look up the... by Ad Du on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 at 11:33:48 AM
Thank you for sharing Meryl Ann!Our dads may have ... by Jim Arnold on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 at 2:32:36 PM
Wow Jim that's cool! Dad remembers having to scrub... by Meryl Ann Butler on Sunday, Nov 10, 2013 at 3:14:11 PM
This is beautiful, Meryl Ann. Your dad should be p... by Linda Milazzo on Monday, Nov 11, 2013 at 12:13:08 PM
Thanks, Linda! This was one of my favorites to wri... by Meryl Ann Butler on Monday, Nov 11, 2013 at 3:48:59 PM
Great story, thanks for sharing this!... by Anita Stewart on Monday, Nov 11, 2013 at 11:29:20 PM
Thanks Anita"hope you enjoyed some free stuff too ... by Meryl Ann Butler on Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 8:53:48 AM