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There were twelve kids in my Dad's family, seven boys, five girls. Five of the seven boys served in the military during WWII. One of Dad's older brothers, Paul Butler, is nearly 80 years old. I saw him this summer. Paul still lives on the Southwestern Colorado homestead where my Grandparents raised all those kids. He does his best mending fences on a sharp curved county road, where speeding motorists are constantly taking his fence down.
Paul Butler signed up for one year in the Army in January, 1941. December 7, 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. His year had suddenly been extended. Paul was assigned to the 45th Division, 157th Infantry Regiment, Anti-Tank Company. During basic training he was transferred into a rifle company. He was shipped overseas in June of 1943 aboard a converted passenger ship, the Susan B. Anthony. They didn't know where they were going and in July of 1943 he landed in North Africa where they received further training. Back aboard the Susan B. Anthony they were told they were headed for Sicily. On July 10, 1943 they were transferred onto a landing craft where they hit the beaches of Sicily. There he fought bravely in the Battle of Bloody Ridge, at San Stefano. Paul Butler recalls:
"We were under machine gun fire all night long, laying on the ground. Machine gun fire killed my Sergeant. The Italians weren't very good fighters but the Germans were, they were always blowing up railroad tracks and bridges. I saw a U.S.O. show with Bob Hope. We traveled on foot a lot under General Patton's command. He gave a speech to about 2,000 of us and we were told we'd hit the mainland of Italy. I remember him saying, "If those SOBs don't back up, take your bayonets and make them." Patton had to return to the states over the incident where he slapped the soldier with battle fatigue, so we went on without him. In Sicily I was transferred back into an Anti-tank company and I hauled 60mm Mortar rounds. On Sept. 8, 1943 we hit Salerno Beach. There, I drove a White 1/2 track pulling a 37mm gun. I drove the 1/2 track onto the beach head. On the way into Italy, the Italians surrendered, but the Germans fought furiously. That winter we were foot soldiers in the mountains of Italy. A lot of G.I.s got trench foot, frozen feet and lost toes. Then, on January 29, 1944 we hit Anzio Beach Head. The Germans had all the high ground and we were pinned down on the beach every day for 4 to 5 months. Every day was like a D-day. I built a cellar that kept shell fragments out. It was a foxhole with a timber and sandbag roof. We had a gas stove and played cards sometimes with a candle, when the candle went out you knew you had to get out to get oxygen. The Germans had this big gun we called Anzio Angie and when the big shells were fired, it sounded light a freight train coming. The gun was placed back in a tunnel on a railway car. They had a 6 barrel mortar that sounded like a screechin' tomcat, but the toughest were those German 88's. Us 1/2-track drivers had to drive back up this road one time so we could hide and camouflage our vehicles. Most of my 37mm gun crew was killed then. They gave me the Bronze Star for delivering ammunition while under fire. I was just one of the lucky ones who didn't get hit. A lot of men were captured, then escaped and rejoined us. One unit lost all but two of its men. One day when we had a break in the shelling and I was horsing around with some other fellas and one threw a dirt clod and gave me a black eye. They sent me to the hospital. They wanted to give me a Purple Heart, but I told the truth and said I'd rather have some aspirin. During the 2nd night, the Germans shelled the hospital and I crawled under my cot. I told them it was safer where I had been and I asked to be sent back to the front. The last part of May, we broke out of the beach head and headed for Rome. On June 6, 1944, D-Day, we were headed into Rome after 5 months of fierce fighting on Anzio. Because the Pope was in Rome, we were sent back to the beach head for more training until Aug. 1. On the 15th of August we hit the Southern France beach head near the French Riviera. It was an easy landing with very little resistance. We spent the winter in the Vosges Mountains. It was really cold. I remember the sap freezing in the trees and they'd blow up just like shells. In November of 44 we went into Alsace, an area along the German-French border. There was heavy fighting from town to town. I was a Transportation Corporal at the time and I drove a Dodge 6x6 pulling a 57mm Gun behind it. We were under blackout operations most of the time. We crossed the Rhine River on an Army built bridge and into Aschaffenburg about 2 weeks after General Patton entered the city. We were in and out of buildings and German Snipers were firing at us all the time. Our commander told us that the end of the war was getting close and he didn't want to see any more of us get killed, so we pulled out and the Air Corps bombed the city. My last day of combat was April 30, 1945, my 511th day. That day I visited the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. The day before, I company of the Third Battalion had been the first to Dachau. Some of my buddies went over that day, I figured I'd better see it too. I didn't really want to, but I did. Them pictures you've seen, it was the truth. We had been fighting for two years and we were hard. We had seen things-our friends killed and you kind of got used to it, maybe your emotions sort of die. A few days later I hitched a ride down somewhere in Germany to see your Dad. I had found out where he was and decided to visit. All those soldiers... and I found him. I came walking up and he said, "That's Paul Butler." When I got back to camp, they sent me home. When the plane landed in Florida, I kissed the ground."
the last few years, I've lost two important men who had been in my life for a
long time. They were both veterans of World War II, both heroes to me and to others.