:: Richard D. Butler
Richard D. Butler
Colonel, USAF (Ret.)
Interviewed on November 3, 2006 at the home of Col. Butler in Riverside, California
This is an interview with Col. Richard D. Butler. My name is Bob Fitch. Today is November 3rd, 2006, and this interview is taking place at Colonel Butler's residence in Air Force Village West as part of the Riverside Veterans' History Project in partnership with the Library of Congress.
Fitch: Good morning, Dick.
Butler: Good morning.
Fitch: Could you please give us your full name.
Butler: Richard David Butler.
Fitch: And where were you born and raised?
Butler: Born and raised in San Diego, California.
Fitch: All right. What was the year of your birth?
Butler: The year was 1921.
Fitch: And you completed high school in the San Diego area?
Butler: Yes. San Diego High School.
Fitch: Okay. What did you do after you graduated from high school?
Butler: I went to San Diego State College for a year; then I went to USC in Los Angeles for a year and then I went back to San Diego State because I could participate there in the CPT, the Civilian Pilot Training Program, which I couldn't get at USC. After completing that and the rest of that semester, I went back to USC and was attending USC when the war started.
Fitch: Did you complete your college education at USC?
Fitch: And you went into the military service right after the war started?
Butler: Right after the war ... the 19th of January 1942.
Fitch: What about your family background? What was your father's business?
Butler: My father was an attorney in San Diego, but he passed away when I was only six years old.
Fitch: Where did you first report for duty in 1942?
Butler: Well, I was sworn in at Fort Rosecrans, Point Loma, San Diego, and immediately was put on a train and went to pre-flight training at Williams Army Airfield over in Arizona.
Fitch: Where did you get your first flight training?
Butler: In the CPT program at a small airfield in Sweetwater, south of San Diego.
Fitch: I suppose you flew some interstates or small airplanes such as that?
Butler: Well, you're speaking of ... after I became an Aviation Cadet?
Fitch: No. Your training at Sweetwater.
Butler: Yeah, a little. We flew Piper Cubs.
Fitch: Okay. Then you continued your Primary Flight Training where?
Butler: That was Primary at Ryan Field. We flew Ryan PT 22s. Then I went to Basic Training at Merced Army Air Field and flew BT-13s there and then went to Luke Field at Phoenix, Arizona and flew AT-6s. That's where I graduated and was commissioned.
Fitch: What month and year did you get your Wings?
Butler: August 1942.
Fitch: Then you had some transition training after that?
Butler: I went to B-24 transition at Davis Monthan Army Air Field at Tucson. There I was assigned to a crew as a co-pilot. We were only there one month. Then I went to Biggs Field at El Paso, Texas, for just a couple of days. They had too many people there so we went on up to Pueblo Army Airfield in Colorado. We were there for a month. Very limited flying training. The B-24 airplanes just weren't available there at that time and we were only there for a month. That was October of '42. Then we went to Wendover, Utah, in November of '42 and were there a month, again not flying very much. Then back to Pueblo for December of '42. That's where we supposedly completed our combat crew training.
Fitch: Did you get much night flying in?
Butler: Very little.
Fitch: Then from there you went overseas?
Butler: From Pueblo we went to Salina, Kansas, in January of '43 and were assigned a brand new B-24. We were in a squadron ... 506 Bomb Squadron. We picked up our new airplanes there and started our trip overseas. We went to De Ridder, Louisiana, for a few days because we were supposed to go to Morrison Field in Palm Beach, but they had so many airplanes there they had to put us someplace until they had room for us at Morrison Field in West Palm Beach.
Fitch: You did a lot of traveling from base to base to base.
Butler: Yes. (Laughing) Most of it by troop train. None of it by air. We got to Morrison Field, West Palm Beach and completed getting the equipment and so forth and briefings for going overseas. Then we left from Morrison Field.
Fitch: By which ...
Butler: We went the southern route. We went to Borinquen Field in Puerto Rico and were there several days. From there we went to Guiana in South America. There was one other stop in there; finally we went down to Natal, Brazil. Natal was the jumping off point to fly across the South Atlantic to Bathurst in British Gambia on the west coast of Africa.
Fitch: Somewhere in North Africa?
Butler: No, no, no. Down mid-Africa.
Fitch: We can come back to that later.
Butler: I forget the name of the field but it was in British Gambia, down there. Later on with all the traffic going across the South Atlantic we went to Dakar, but we were early so we went to this place in British Gambia. We were there maybe three days and then flew up to Marrakech in Morocco. All this time we didn't know what our ultimate destination was to be. We had trained as the 5th Squadron with the 308th Bomb Group and when we got to Marrakech ... we assumed, just from this equipment that we'd been issued ... that we were going on across to North Africa to probably India. That's where the 308th Bomb Group went. Our squadron went to England and we became the 4th Squadron in the 44th Bomb Group. The 44th Bomb Group had gone over to England in October of '42 with only three squadrons. We got there in February as the 4th Squadron of the 44th Bomb Group. Shipdham was the name of the field. We were up in East Anglia about eighteen miles west of the city of Norwich, England.
Fitch: On what date did you fly your first mission? Approximately.
Butler: About the 1st of March ... early March. I don't recall. At that time the 44th was the only B-24 Bomb Group in England. Prior to our arrival the group on missions had suffered tremendous losses. Very big losses. They were taking such a beating that when I got there and started flying ... we were flying only diversionary missions. We'd take off and make a pass towards the French coast to divert attention from the B-17s that were going some place else. We flew some of those missions. We only got credit for a mission if we were attacked, and that only happened a couple of times.
Fitch: Those attacks were by German ME-109s?
Butler: No, FW-190s. The yellow nosed ... what did they call them? I don't know. They had a knick name for them.
Fitch: Did your crew suffer any injuries?
Butler: No, no, no, no. No damage, no nothing. No, no. No nothing. So the first really severe battle damage mission was the 14th of May ... a bombing mission to Kiel, Germany ... to bomb the submarine pens there. We were still the only B-24 group but they put us with the B-17s which was a big mistake.
Fitch: In what way?
Butler: We were faster than the B-17s but we could not go as high as they did. The B-24, particularly in those days, was so much more difficult to fly in high altitude formation. So the B-17s were above us and when we got to Kiel to bomb they were ahead of us a little bit and when they dropped their bombs, which were basically incendiary clusters, which were about 100 "incendiary sticks" bundled up by steel bands. As they came out of the bomb bay the bands came loose, as they were supposed to, and so you had all these 4 lb. sticks raining down and we got hit by a few of those. The fighters attacked us more than they attacked the B-17s. We lost a number of airplanes on that. Other than damage to our airplane from being hit by a few of the sticks, the incendiary sticks, we had no damage and no injuries. But we lost a third of our airplanes from the Group on that mission.
Fitch: How many missions did you fly?
Butler: Not counting the diversionary missions -- twenty-seven. The tour at that time was twenty-five. After that mission, which was the 14th of May of '43, we flew a mission to bomb the submarine pens at Bordeaux, France. By that time the other B-24 Group, the 93rd Bomb Group, had left England before we did got there ... the 93rd had been sent down to North Africa to support the North African campaign. So that's why we were the only group there in England. But they were back by the 17th and the two groups flew this mission to Bordeaux, France. This was such a long mission. We took off from Shipdham, our normal base and went down and staged at a base down in southwest England ... David Stowmoore, I remember that name. We took off from that base and flew at low level out around the Brest Peninsula and down the Bay of Biscay at low level to avoid radar detection. At the last practical time we turned east and in towards Bordeaux and climbed at that time and bombed the submarine pens at Bordeaux, France. The mission was very, very successful for both bomb groups and nobody lost any airplanes. We took them completely by surprise. It was a very effective mission and as a result the group received a Presidential Unit Citation.
Butler: Because that had been so successful, why, several days later we did the same thing and bombed the submarine pens just south of Bordeaux. And again, that worked out fine.
Fitch: You mentioned that you joined the crew back in the states as co-pilot. By the time you got to England ...
Butler: I was still a co-pilot. Well, after we got back from that second mission down there, for some reason they started us flying low level formation. I mean tree-top level formation in England. And we had all kinds of rumors. Why were we doing that? They took us off regular combat mission and there were all sorts of rumors. One of them was that we were going to attack the Bismarck battleship or something off Norway. We really didn't know. But then, in the latter part of June, all of a sudden our whole group, except for our airplane, took off and left. Their destination was Bengazi, Libya. They went down to stage at a different base down in southwest England and then flew to Marrakech. From Marrakech to Bengazi, Libya.
For some reason our airplane was kept back. When we took off we flew to an airfield down near London and we picked up a British civilian there. They fastened some large wooden crates in our bomb bay. Then we took off singly and we went that route down to Marrakech down to Bengazi, Libya. When we got there to Bengazi our group had already flown two or three missions supporting the invasion of Sicily. They bombed in Sicily and at the toe of Italy. So we did that too. We didn't know anything more than that. While we were there the rumors were still flying.
One of the most interesting missions was when we bombed Naples, Italy. Then on the 19th of July we bombed Rome. That was the first time that place had been bombed and were thoroughly, thoroughly briefed, but we were told, "Don't you DARE hit the Vatican!" We were bombing the railroad yards and so forth in Rome. That mission was very successful, and it got a lot of attention because it was the first mission up there bombing Rome.
Fitch: What happened with this British civilian you picked up in ....
Butler: I was going to get to that.
Fitch: I'm sorry.
Butler: Okay. Then after that 19th of July mission we started flying low level missions ... practice missions ... out across the desert. I neglected to mention that in addition to our 44th Bomb Group going down to Bengazi, the 93rd Bomb Group that I had mentioned a few minutes ago, also went down there and the 389th Bomb Group, which was en route to England. They were diverted to Bengazi also. There were already two B-24 groups down there -- North Africa based -- the 98th Bomb Group and the 376th Bomb Group -- so there were five B-24 groups in the Bengazi area and all of us started flying these low level practice missions across the desert. We flew a number of those.
After the first few missions they set up some simulated targets out in the desert ... just hay stacks ... and each group had its own simulated targets out there and we carried practice bombs and bombed those. We were instructed to fly in just as low as we could possibly get. Some airplanes actually scraped the desert. We heard that one ... and it was verified ... that one airplane had hit a camel and its driver and killed him.
Fitch: Oh, no!
Butler: Then we found out that the reason for all this was that we were going to bomb the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, with the five groups. That was done on the 1st of August of 1943 and the famous Tidal Wave Mission. That was the name of it. We had some extensive briefings a day or two before and that was the first time that we really found out what we were going to do. The crates that we had taken down were mock-ups of the refineries. This civilian had been an engineer with British Oil and had worked on these refineries and he'd make these mock-ups of the refineries. Of course each group was assigned a certain refinery. They actually had bombardiers riding tricycles, attacking these mock-ups for practice. It was a very, very detailed preparation. By the way, at that time we were under the 9th Air Force. The 9th Air Force was based in Cairo, Egypt, at the 9th Air Force Headquarters. Later on they moved to England. General Brereton was the commander and he came and he briefed all of us on the importance of the mission. He said that to destroy those oil refineries, which were producing more than a third of the total oil products that Germany had, was so important that if every single airplane was lost and the targets were destroyed, it would be worth it. And that got your attention. It sure did. It was very sobering.
I had just learned a day or two before by telegram that my wife, Ardith, had given birth to our daughter Emily on the 12th of July. So the night before the mission, I wrote quite a serious letter home. Our group commander, then Col. Leon Johnson, when he briefed us ... just our group there ... he said, "If anybody didn't want to go on that mission ... if they preferred not to go for whatever reason ... they could be excused. Nobody declined Col. Johnson's offer. All of our people went. On the morning of the 1st of August ... I hadn't mentioned that the living conditions we had were atrocious out in the desert there, living in tents and dust and a locusts plague that was going on and it was very, very difficult living ... it was all dust.
Fitch: How was the food?
Butler: The food was horrible. We were eating out of our mess kits. No dining facility at all. We'd just go out ... wherever you could sit down. No latrines, just barrels sitting out in the desert. It was tough. The Air Field itself was just a dirt strip. We were with the 98th Bomb Group which I mentioned earlier and they were based there. We were on the same base with them. That was commanded by an illustrious guy by the name of "Killer" Kane. "Killer" Kane commanded the 98th Bomb Group which was based in North Africe and we were on the base with them.
The 98th took off first and about the third airplane of theirs that took off lost an engine and circled around and hit a pole and crashed right alongside of us there. A typical crash and burst into flame. But we took off right when we were supposed to. All five groups were to be together, led by the 376th Bomb Group and then the 93rd Bomb Group, then the 98th Bomb Group, the 44th Bomb Group and the 389th. We assembled out over the Mediterranean Ocean and proceeded at medium altitude, probably about eight or ten thousand feet out across the Mediterranean, and the weather was clear. All of a sudden we saw up ahead a B-24 just roll over and plunge down into the ocean. With poor discipline a wing-man peeled off and followed him down, which should never have happened.
That airplane was from the 376th Bomb Group. Later on the complaint was that a large part of the reason for the mission not being completely successful was that that was the lead airplane that spun in. It took a long time to disprove that idea. A lot of books and things were written that said that that was the lead airplane, but that was wrong.
So we proceeded in formation across the Mediterranean and turned up in to the Adriatic and then started climbing to cross the mountains in Albania and Yugoslavia, which we had to cross. The cloud build-ups over the mountains were much higher and much more severe than what had been predicted. The 376th Bomb Group which was leading and was commanded by then Col. Keith Compton and had on board as a command pilot Brig. Gen. Uzal Ent. When they encountered the clouds they climbed higher than the briefed altitude and climbed and went over the cumulus cloud, followed by the 93rd which was the second group. The third group, commanded by Col. Kane, and we followed them, neglected to climb, and worked our way through the clouds. That was very (laughing) very thrilling. We were leading a three ship element and we actually lost sight of the wing airplanes dipping in and out of the clouds. But everybody got through it alright.
The two groups who climbed up over the clouds picked up a tailwind and got a good twenty minutes ahead of the rest of the formation. And that's when things started to come apart. Of course we didn't know it. We reassembled very well after getting across the mountains and we dropped down onto the plains, getting down towards our minimum altitude, but there was no sign of the leading two groups at all. They'd gotten so far ahead of us. The weather was good. It was clear and the countryside was pretty and we proceeded towards our targets. Our group had two refineries assigned as targets. There were eighteen airplanes in one-half going to one target, led by Col. Johnson. The element we were in had twenty airplanes and was commanded by the group vice-commander, Lt. Col. Posey. We had a pre IP and then an IP at which point we diverged. This is kind of hard to tell because of the sequence of things that happened.
Fitch: Excuse me. The IP is the Initial Point.
Butler: Yes. There was a Pre-IP and then the regular IP. As we got closer to Ploesti things really started coming unglued with the ground defense. Supposedly, this was supposed to be a surprise attack. They, the Germans had known for months that we were coming.
Butler: In fact Hitler had put one of his leading generals, Gurstenberg, in Ploesti to beef up the forces. We had been told that "you don't need to worry about the fighters. They would be Romanian pilots and they don't know what they're doing. The anti-aircraft guns will be manned by Romanians and they're 88mm and can only shoot high. They can't be lowered enough." All of this was wrong. As we were approaching the area, a number of us saw a railroad train going along the same direction we were going and all of a sudden the sides of the cars dropped down and there were guns on those flat cars and they were firing at us. With probably 20mm-type stuff. We saw haystacks open up and guns firing. And there were barrage balloons all over the place and smoke pots. I very well remember flying over a building that had a big red cross painted on top of it. You would assume it was a hospital. But boy, there was a big gun crew on that thing and it was firing at our planes.
The way the formation was laid out ... three ship elements like this ... with waves of us ... it wasn't a standard high altitude-type formation at all. An airplane leading a three ship element just off to my right, I was a co-pilot, and all of a sudden there was a fighter right on its tail shooting at it and the tail-gunner was firing back at it. All of a sudden both of them went in. Right out alongside us. They both went in. I knew the pilot on that plane only from our bomb group ... he happened to be from southern California, as well. His name was Roland Houston. That pilot had completed his twenty-five missions. He didn't have to be there but he volunteered to go.
But then, up ahead of us and off to our left ... the refineries to our left ... all of a sudden there were B-24s coming across and going perpendicular to us. A couple of the refineries were blowing up. Wait -- I've got to back up. What happened was that the lead two groups that got ahead of us had mis-identified the PIP and continued on south, missing the whole target area. They were headed towards Budapest. The 93rd recognized that this mistake had been made and they left their lead ... the 376th ... that they were following and turned left and went cross to traffic bomb whatever they saw, perpendicular to the briefed attack line. As a result, they hit refineries that were the targets of Gol. Johnson, with half of our group, and the target that was assigned to Killer Kane's outfit. These formations led by Col. Johnson and Col. Kane had to fly through the exploding refineries and the smoke and the fire and all that. That's largely why Kane and Johnson were each awarded the Medal of Honor for leading their formations through that and doing what they did.
Fitch: This was even though the targets were not assigned to their 93rd Bomb Group.
Butler: Those were not their assigned targets. They saw two refineries and they bombed them. They were passing right across in front of us. They apparently didn't see our target and they saw these others. Their group leader and his co-pilot dove their airplane into the target. They were each awarded Medals of Honor posthumously. There was another Medal of Honor to a pilot where another airplane did the same thing over in the 389th Bomb Group which was further away from us. They were not involved in this pre-bombing. But the 376th Bomb Group really, really goofed up the mission with their terrible navigation and failure to find their target. That's why it was later evaluated to be only about overall 40% effective.
But, on the bright side, and I'm very, very proud of our element; we had the Creditul Minor refinery which was the only one of the whole complex that produced aviation gas. Our element bombed it completely successfully. I'll come back to this in a minute. As we approached the target we were just as low as we could possibly get. Our aiming point in the refinery was the boiler plant. We had to pull up to get over the smoke stacks and the bomb sight our bombardiers used was maybe something you might have been familiar with, but it was more of a gun sight built by National Cash Register. It was just a sighting device and I remember our bombardier, Henry Zwicker hollering, "Left! Left! Left!" We were trying to crank it left. We pulled up, dropped our bombs, and somewhere, right about that time, we hit a barrage balloon cable. I saw it coming. It hit us between the #3 engine and the fuselage and hit the wing right in there and knocked out the #3 engine right then. The engine instruments for everything on the right side went out. I reached up and feathered ... tried to feather #3, and Walt Bunker who was our first pilot looked over and saw #4 engine instruments winding down. He reached up and hit #4.
Fitch: Oh, no!
Butler: We were feathering two engines on the same side. Yes ... at the same time and both of us had ahold of that thing. Our flight engineer, Loy Neeper who was still alive, barely, was in the top turret and said that our right wing tip came within twenty feet of hitting the ground!
Fitch: Wow! I'm surprised that the cables didn't sever the wing.
Butler: No, it didn't do it. These balloons, in addition to the tethered cable, had other cables just hanging down. We might have hit one of those. It might not have been a fastened cable. Anyway, just as we recovered from that an ME-109 came in, boring in on us, head-on, firing as he went under us. I said to the tail-gunner on the intercom, "Did the Fighter crash underneath us?" And he said, "No, he's climbing out." (Laughing) Couldn't figure out how he got through underneath us.
As I said, I was very proud of what we did. The Creditul Minor Aviation Gas Refinery was completely destroyed and never rebuilt during the war.
Fitch: That is amazing!
Butler: And it was the only supply of aviation gas. As a result, and I can show you in publications, they said that the Luftwaffe had to cut back on their training because of the shortage of av gas and also their interceptors could not take off so early for the rest of the war.
Fitch: That was tremendous.
Butler: Yes. And as I said, I was very, very proud of that. There were 174 airplanes that were launched on the mission from the mission from the five groups and 54 were lost. That includes ... I think it was maybe five or seven that went in to Turkey. The crew members were interred for a while. Going back again, right after that fighter attack, we proceeded rather low for a while and then started to climb and joined up with a couple of airplanes.
Fitch: You were able to climb on two engines?
Butler: Three. We got #4 going immediately. It didn't completely feather. We crossed Greece ... just the coast of Greece going out and we were attacked by three bi-planes! (Laughing) Not very effectively, but we made it all the way back to Bengazi, something over thirteen hours. We were one of the few that made it all the way back.
Fitch: Belated congratulations.
Butler: When we landed back there and taxied in there was an ambulance there. We didn't have any wounded at all. Nobody was hurt. We landed with no brakes at all. Hydraulic system had been shot out but we managed to get stopped. But there was an ambulance there. As we got off the airplane someone said, "Which one of you is Butler?" I said, "Me." He said, "You have Type B blood. Get in the ambulance!" And they hauled me off in the ambulance to a tent hospital and I gave a transfusion to somebody. (Laughing) So I missed the spirits after the mission.
Fitch: I hope you made up for it later.
Butler: Yeah. Well, we had lost so many airplanes from our group that they transferred our crew into another squadron which had been virtually wiped out. When we went into that other squadron, Walt Bunker, who had been our first pilot, became Operations Officer and I took the crew. So I became the first pilot after the Ploesti mission.
Fitch: How many missions did you fly after the Ploesti mission?
Butler: I'd say about fifteen. After the Ploesti mission we flew a couple of missions up into Italy. I was only on one to Foggia which you've probably heard of. It later became a very active bomber base. We lost several airplanes on that mission to Foggia. Our group flew a mission up to Wiener Neustadt, Austria, up near Vienna to bomb the fighter plant there ... a Messerschmidt factory there, and it went very, very well. It was very successful. I wasn't on it.
Well, then we left and we went back to England. When we got back to England it was the latter part of August. I don't recall exactly when. We started flying normal bombing missions there. Then all of a sudden they stopped us again and we loaded up and we went back to North Africa. This time to Tunis. The reason they sent us down to Tunis was because our troops had landed at Salerno Landing in Italy and they were pinned down and couldn't take the beach, so they sent us down there to provide air support. By the time we got there, which was a relatively short time, the troops had broken out and they didn't need us for that. So headquarters started figuring out what to do with us. We flew a mission to Pisa with instructions to stay away from the tower, and we flew a mission to Leghorn, Italy. Then they put us on a mission to go back up to Wiener Neustadt, Austria. This turned out to be a great disaster.
We were in a six ship ... three and three ... that was the squadron, six airplanes ... we were the lower squadron, lower left squadron off the lead ... and we were getting some flak but then all of a sudden a tremendous number of fighters hit us from head-on. Reports afterwards said there were over a hundred that hit our groups. They were coming in firing away and so forth and I saw the lead airplane, the one I was flying formation on, get hit and he started to nose down and just instinctively, because I'm flying formation, I started following.... and wait! Wait! Wait! He's going down! I came back up. Nobody else was around. I called the tail-gunner and I said, "Is the rest of the formation forming up on us?" And he said, "They're all down." So we were sitting there by ourselves and I moved over and went up and practically climbed in the bomb bay of the lead airplane for protection. That was a very, very dangerous place to be and so a good friend later on saw me do that and he said, "Oh, poor Dick Butler. He's done for." But we made it. We got off the target. Of our group of about eighteen airplanes we lost nine. My airplane was badly shot up, and we had one badly wounded gunner.
As we came down to the Mediterranean we knew we wouldn't be able to make it across the Mediterranean to Tunis so we headed for Sicily where there were some airfields which had been taken in the Sicilian campaign. I made a crash landing at Catania, Sicily. It was just a strip there and we were so badly shot up that the engineer had gone back and looked out and he said, "The cable's out to the flap has one of them is shot through and you'll never be able to use full flaps, try just half flaps." We still had four engines. As we got down ... I'd say we were about 300 feet ... and I had half flaps and all of a sudden the right flap where one cable had been shot, it popped up and the left flap went down full.
Fitch: That's bad news!
Butler: We hit the ground going catty-wampus ... of course I had to apply power to hold it in so we hit the ground going very fast. There were B-25s lined up on one side of the runway, facing the runway, and all I could see was oil barrels on the other side of the runway. We had no brakes so we're wheeling down the runway there. One of the last things I remember was seeing a guy on a bicycle riding across the runway. "Holy Mackerel! I think we're gonna hit that guy!" But he started pedaling faster and got out. We went off the end of the runway and out into the sand on the beach and so forth. The nose gear collapsed and beat up the airplane pretty good.
We had one substitute gunner. Our regular gunner for that position had gone out on the town the night before and got thrown in jail, so we had this substitute gunner and he'd been badly shot up. So they hauled him off and we were there at this very primitive base in Catania, Sicily. Right under the shadow of Mount Aetna. They had no communication with our base near Tunis.. They had no way of notifying our unit back in Tunis that we were there. There was no communication at all. We got a bed in a tent and slept and the next day looked at our airplane and gathered some stuff out of the airplane. They'd hauled it in by then, and, of course it was a wash-out. We didn't know what we were gonna do. We spent most of the time trying to get them to make communication with somebody. They had a tent that served as the club and that evening I went in there and went to the bar ... and here at the bar was a guy that was a year ahead of me in high school in San Diego.
Butler: He was Jim McColl. And he was there at the bar. He was a C-47 pilot in a troop carrier outfit.
Fitch: Well, he could help you.
Butler: Yes. That's what he said. He said, "Well, heck! I've got to go back ..." they were based over North Africa ... "you can ride back with us tomorrow." "Oh, great!" So the one gunner who was in the hospital ... we just had to leave him. These troop carrier outfits were hauling gasoline into Sicily, and the airplane, a C-47, was loaded with empty 55 gallon drums as we started out. We hit thunderstorms going out across the Mediterranean. The drums broke loose and were rolling (laughing) ... we turned around and went back to Catania, Sicily. We tried it again the next day and we got to Tunis, Oudna Number One was the name of the airfield.
Let me back up. On that mission to Wiener Neustadt, previous to that they'd taken my bombardier and navigator and put them on a lead crew ... a crew that supposedly had more experience than I had ... and they were in that airplane that I was flying formation on. It got shot down and only the co-pilot and the navigator ... my former navigator ... survived. They were the only two that got out. The bombardier who was virtually my best friend was killed, Henry Zwicker. That was very, very unfortunate, of course I didn't know that until a long time later. A long time after the War.
When we got back to Tunis the group had packed up and gone back to England. Somebody had done something with my clothes and all my gear and everything was missing. Oh, boy. What am I gonna do? I gotta get the crew back to England. No transportation. So my friend, Jim McColl, said, "Well, I'll take you over to Algiers." Maybe you can get transportation there." So we get in his C-47 and go to that place, but no air transportation was available there. Then, well, let's go on to the next place the next day. It was Oran. No transportation there either at that time. He said, "I just can't take you any further. My outfit doesn't know where I am!" (Laughing) He was a real character. Years later he worked for me ... in B-29s. (Laughing)
Wherever we were we eventually got transportation in a day or so to Marrakech and at Marrakech there was a MATS outfit. They arranged for us to ride a C-54 regular transport. We went to Preswick, Scotland. Preswick was a big hub. We got railroad tickets and got on the railroad and went to London. We then transferred and got on a train up to Norwich in the evening. In those days, they ran the Liberty Run from the base into the city of Norwich and we got there in time to get on that Liberty Run and ride it back to the base. When we showed up at the base ... they weren't expecting us ... "Where'd you guys come from?" (Laughing)
Fitch: They didn't know you were alive?
Butler: No, they didn't. But fortunately nobody had ever reported us missing in action. Well, that mission ... the Wiener Neustadt mission ... I didn't cover it. It was the 2nd of October of 1943 and the latter half of October by the time we got back to Shipdham. We then started flying a lot of bombing missions into Germany. I completed my missions and they said they were going to make me Squadron Operations Officer. O.K. One day on one of my later missions to Bremen, Germany, we'd been very badly shot up and the airplane had to have a test flight after repairs. So they asked me to test fly it on a combination test op and a training mission ... formation training mission. I'd gotten a new co-pilot who had been transferred in to our squadron from anti-sub organization and he had a lot of B-24 flying time but had never flown formation and particularly at high altitude. That was part of the training flight with the test flight. We did that portion and were coming back and let down to land just before entering downwind lag. You know how that goes ...
Butler: We were at 800 feet and what we had to do was to pick up a circle of lights out from the airfield and follow that circle around until we got to the V that led us into the runway. We were at 800 feet when there was an explosion and all four engines quit.
Fitch: Oh my!
Butler: Down we went, of course, and crashed. I remember going out through the left side of the airplane and the co-pilot went out through the right side. I couldn't walk and I was on the ground out there and I was concerned about everybody ... the crew ... and so forth. Everybody yelled "Everybody out?"
"Well, wait a minute, Nicholson, the bombardier, he's not out!"
This same fella flight engineer, Lloyd Neeper, big fella, went back into the airplane through the top hatch and pulled the unconscious bombardier out. The airplane was burning and exploding like crazy. Later he was awarded the Soldier's Medal for that. But we all got out of the airplane. The co-pilot and I were the worst injured. That bombardier had a couple of broken or cracked ribs but basically everybody else was alright.
Fitch: What were the extent of your injuries?
Butler: I had a broken left arm right here. I still have a steel plate in there and a broken left ankle and bruises and stuff. I was pretty beat up. The co-pilot had a broken right arm and extensive bruises also.
I had mentioned Col. Leon Johnson before as being in our crew. Bby this time he was up to a Brig. General and was Wing Commander. He happened to be in the control tower and saw us go down out there. He jumped into the staff car and raced out there where we were and he and the driver of the staff car tore a gate off a fence and used it for a stretcher to carry me away from the burning wreckage. (Laughing)
Fitch: Oh, my.
Butler: ...to carry me away. (Laughing)
Fitch: What was the cause of the explosion that brought you down?
Butler: It came from the #2 engine area and they think there was probably an unexploded shell in there that blew up at that time, because when it blew it caved in the whole side of the airplane. And the radio operator -- something came flying through and sheared off his left ear, which he recovered (laughing) and they sewed it back on. But, it was a big explosion that came through, and when it blew it must have severed fuel lines or something.
Fitch: Were you allowed to go home after that episode?
Butler: Yeah. I was in the hospital for at least a couple of weeks. It happened on the 21st of December. I wound up going back to the base but because of the broken ankle and the cast on it, the only thing we could get on was an open flying boot - fur-lined type. My arm was also in a sling. The group commander wanted me to stay, but the medics said no, it would take at least six months for my bones to heal in England. The medics said I had to go home.
Fitch: Before we leave the B-24 I have read Stephen Ambrose's book on the "Wild Blue" on B-24s featuring George McGovern as the pilot.
Butler: I have no comment about that book.
Fitch: Okay, but I'm sure you do about the airplane. He noted that, as you did before, that the airplane was difficult to fly in formation. What about other negative aspects of that airplane? Any other thing that made it a problem flying?
Butler: Well, basically the reason was the Davis wing. You know about the Davis wing. It was built for a high speed wing and not for high altitude. The airplane flew in formation all right at lower altitude but because of the wing, when you got to high altitude, it was very, very sloppy. In the early B-24s with the turbo superchargers, you had levers like throttles. I say in the early ones ... when I was there ... later on they put electronic controls on there and you could just set it with a dial. Also with the props with the oil congealing in the domes, you had very, very poor prop control. All you had was toggle switches so, at high altitude, many times the free air temperature gauge would be completely past zero!
Well, one guy flew the formation, handled the airplane; the other guy was constantly changing the prop pitch to keep the oil from congealing in the prop dome. We didn't have any control if the oil froze up, and operating the levers for the turbo superchargers because they'd run away or go down and we had to bring them back in. As I said, the control was very, very sloppy at high altitude.
Fitch: And now for your most outstanding flying career there in Europe and North Africa, the information you supplied earlier indicates that you were awarded the Legion of Merit with two Oak Leaf Clusters.
Butler: Yeah, but that was all later ... much later in my career.
Fitch: Okay. The Distinguished Flying Cross.
Butler: I got the Distinguished Flying Cross for the Ploesti mission and another for completion of my 25 missions.
Fitch: And the Air Medal?
Butler: Yeah, they gave an Air Medal for every five missions.
Fitch: Most commendable. Most commendable. Let's pick it up quickly then. When you got home and after you healed, what was your next duty?
Butler: I would like to mention one thing about that co-pilot.
Butler: Because that's an interesting story. His name was Jerry Grell. He and I came home together. They put us on a hospital train in New York. The idea was to take us to a general hospital closest to our home. Jerry Grell was from Minnesota, and as we came through Chicago he got off the train there. "Good-bye" And I continued on. Never heard a word again about that guy. Anything about him. Nothing at all. And this is why the story gets interesting.
One day when I was working at the March Museum, sitting at the desk, and I had to make a phone call so I opened the telephone book. The name at the top of the column on the left side was Gerald C. Grell!
Butler: I immediately called the number and identified myself and she said ... this was a daughter ... "He's not here right now. And you said your name was Dick Butler?"
I said, "Yes."
She said "I've heard about you all my life!"
Fitch: (Laughing) Good.
Butler: Well, to keep from going on, we lived in Woodcrest, and I got Jerry Grell on the phone and found out he lived right up here in Orange Crest.
Fitch: Practically neighbors.
Butler: Practically neighbors. Let's see ... what year was that? We crashed in '43 and it was more than fifty years later that I encountered him.
Fitch: Amazing story.
Butler: He's deceased now but that's why I wanted to throw that in.
Fitch: Most interesting, yes.
Butler: Well, after I got out of the hospital I was assigned to Herrington, Kansas, which had just become a B-29 staging base. I got involved in B-29s then and was flying B-29s. As I said, we were a staging base. The war ended in Europe. They moved the staging bases which were Herrington, Topeka, Kansas, and Kearney, Nebraska, out to Merced, Salinas, and Chico, California; but by the time we got in place to stage B-29s for the Pacific ... the war ended in the Pacific. We were at Merced Army Field at that time. Then the base closed and we went to Grand Island AFB, Nebraska, and then Grand Island closed. This Walt Bunker that had been the first pilot was working for General Leon Johnson at the Pentagon and he called me and said, "You are eligible for a commission in the regularArmy." When I joined the Cadets they had a program there that you got a $500 bonus for each year of active duty. Did you ever hear of that? For every year of active duty. And when you got out you collected for those years unless you became a regular Army officer. He said, "You're about to get a regular commission." General Johnson was the head of the Board, and he said, "Why don't you get out and collect your terminal leave pay and you'll get your $2200. Then you'll be coming back in the regular Army."
So I did. I got out. (Laughing) I got that $2200.00.
Fitch: Good plan.
Butler: And in August of '47 I got my regular commission, went back to Castle Air Force Base at Merced which had reopened by then.
Fitch: At what rank were you at that time?
Butler: I was Captain. I was assigned to the 93rd Air Bomb Group and flew B-29s and B-50s. We were at Castle until December '49. I was a Major by then. Went to Command and Staff School at Maxwell AFB.
Fitch: That's in Alabama?
Butler: Yes. From there I was assigned to March. I was very, very joyous at that because I was assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing at March Air Force. Gosh! I'm gonna get finally to fly fighters. We got here ... it must have been late June or early July ... and I asked where the 1st Fighter Wing Headquarters was. The guy at the gate told me a building, which later turned out to be over in Dusty Acres, and maybe you were in it or had some association with it.
There was a big sign out front that said: Headquarters: 1st Fighter Wing. I went in and the building was completely empty. Completely empty. What in the heck? So I went someplace and said, "I'm assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing," and so on. I was told, "Oh, they moved to Victorville." (Laughing)
Fitch: (Laughing) There went your opportunity.
Butler: Well, I had already contacted some friends that were stationed here at March and they were in Headquarters 15th Air Force. "How do I get transferred up to George AFB?"
"No way. You're staying here" was the answer. So I was assigned to the 15th Air Force Headquarters, Inspector General's Department. That's where I was, but not for long because the Korean War started right at that time. In those days SAC operated what they called Command Post Exercises and they would send people out to various locations to set up communication places because they expected one-way missions by B-29s and thought they'd have crews scattered all over. So I went on one of these command post exercise missions to Nagoya, Japan. We did what we were supposed to do there. We'd flown a Travis AFB B-29 over there and we thought we needed some work on it and went up to Yakota Air Base where the 92nd and 98th Bomb Groups from Spokane, Washington, were located. There I ran into some friends. I said, "I'm going to be here for a few days getting my airplane checked. Any chance of me flying missions with you ... up to Korea?"
So I did. The most interesting of which was when we went up in early November to bomb the bridge across the Yalu River. We could see all the Chinese forces massed and that was just the day before they crossed into North Korea. Anyway that was the most interesting thing there. Then I got assigned up to SAC Headquarters, Omaha, in the IG Department up there. I was in the SAC IG Office for almost four years as the Operations Inspector and traveling around to all the SAC Units over time doing Inspector General work. I had some very, very interesting experiences and on several occasions I had to brief the results of the inspections to General LeMay. That was always quite an experience to see what his reaction was.
Fitch: How would you describe General LeMay's personality?
Butler: It didn't seem like there was much personality. He was always very quiet, quite gruff. You never knew really what he was thinking. One time I had to brief him on an inspection of a unit that wasn't very good and subsequently he called in the Commander of that organization to come see him and I had to go back up and brief General LeMay again with the Commander present in General LeMay's office. After I spoke then he called on the Commander to speak and this gentlemen went on with quite an explanation, which really didn't make much sense. All of a sudden General LeMay reached into his lower left-hand drawer and pulled out one of those little monkeys that had cymbals and it started clapping. (Laughing)
Fitch: Okay. (Laughing)
Butler: That was quite an interesting experience. In February of 1955 I was reassigned from SAC Headquarters to Guam and brought the family to Riverside and left them because we couldn't have concurrent travel at that time. I had to get over to Guam and find living quarters before I could get the family over there. But I did get the family over there in the summer of '55 and had a very interesting two-year tour on Guam. I was the Deputy Director of Operations of the 3rd Air Division. At first we had B-36 units coming in there on ninety-day rotations. B-36 units that came stayed for three months and that lasted for a while. Then they replaced the B-36s coming in with B-47 units coming in.
Fitch: That's the Jet Bomber.
Butler: Yup. The Jet Bomber. They came in and that was a very interesting experience working with those people. While I was there on Guam in April, 1957, I was promoted to Colonel. Then we were reassigned from Guam to Hunter Air Force Base in Savannah, Georgia. That was a B-47 wing. In fact there were two B-47 wings there. I was assigned as the Deputy Commander for Operations of the 2nd Bomb Wing with B-47s. I had to go to Wichita, Kansas, for B-47 transition and went through the B-47 transition school there so that I was qualified as a pilot in the airplane. I enjoyed that assignment very much and really enjoyed flying the B-47. That was the closest I ever came to flying a fighter. The B-47 was more like a fighter than anything else that I had flown. I really enjoyed that.
We were under the 2nd Air Force, SAC 2nd Air Force, which was at Barksdale AFB. Then they changed us and put us under the 8th Air Force which was at Westover AFB commanded by General Sweeney. General Cam Sweeney. He was a very, very intelligent man and very, very demanding. They pulled a test on us and called it "Golden Hour Tangle Exercise." That's what he did on all of his 8th Air Force Units. It was a surprise. We did all right in the operations end of it but on the maintenance side of the house we were doing very poorly and our wing commander called the Deputy Commander for Maintenance who was on leave locally and told him to come to work, take care of the situation. The Deputy Commander for Maintenance Colonel said no, he was on leave. He was going to stay on leave.
Well, our Wing Commander, of course, immediately fired him and I was appointed Deputy Commander for Maintenance.
Fitch: That was hardly your field, was it?
Butler: I had never been in maintenance. There had been another B-47 unit, the 308th also on the Base. There were two wings. At that time they decided to have only one super wing so they took half of the 308th Bomb Wing and assigned it to our 2nd Bomb Wing. The other half went to Plattsburg AFB, so we had 70 B-47s and 42 KC-97s in the 2nd Bomb Wing all under Maintenance.
Fitch: That was a tremendous responsibility.
Butler: And that was a tremendous responsibility. The only smart thing I did was to surround myself with three very experienced, intelligent senior sergeants. They really guided me as to what to do. (Laughing) And, as a result, we wound up to be a very, very successful maintenance organization.
Butler: I was in that job for a little over a year when all of a sudden I got an assignment to SAC Headquarters in Personnel. So here in less than a year-and-a-half I'd gone from Operations to Maintenance and now into Personnel. I was assigned as the Deputy in the Officer's Assignment Division at Personnel SAC Headquarters. I was the Deputy for a year and then became a Chief of the Officer Personnel Division in SAC Headquarters. This was just before personnel records really went into the computer system. SAC at that time was disbanding B-47 units. We had B-52 units and really building up the missile business. That's when the Minuteman missile business was really building up. In the second year of my tour in that, we had 37,000 officers in SAC. We had more officers in SAC than the total U.S. Navy.
Fitch: Amazing statistic!
Butler: I'm not bragging, but I was responsibility for the assignments on all those people. That was a great amount of work. General Thomas S. Power was Commander-in-Chief of SAC at that time; I had to brief him every Thursday morning on the status of the combat crew situation in SAC. He continually wanted more pilots. More pilots. More pilots in SAC. So I was fighting with the Pentagon to get more pilots. We were somewhat successful much to the disappointment of the rest of the Air Force because SAC was getting a majority of the pilots that were graduating from flying school.
The normal tour up there was four years but at three years I asked if I could please go out into a tactical unit. I wanted that experience. I succeeded and wound up coming to March Air Force Base as Deputy Commander of the 22nd Bomb wing which was just getting B-52s. I came in at the same time as B-52s came to March. There again I had to go to Castle Air Force Base for B-52 transition ... get qualified in B-52s. That was a good assignment but it didn't last long.
One night about 10 o'clock the phone rang and I answered the phone and it was Lieutenant General Archie Old. He said, "Butler, get your (blanked out) over to my office right away!" It was 10 o'clock at night! And I said, "Yes, sir. Just as soon as I get dressed. I'll be right there." He said, "Don't get dressed. Put on a flying suit and get over here!"
General Old of course was 15th Air Force Commander known for being very obstreperous, difficult to work for ... I went into his office and he said, "As of now you're the Base Commander."
Fitch: Wow! That was ...
Butler: "I just fired John Lutz as Base Commander," General Old said.
I said, "But sir, but sir, I like my assignment as Deputy Commander of the Bomb wing."
He said, "You're Base Commander." I tried to appeal and he wouldn't have any part of it, but he did say, "If you do a good job as Base Commander I'll make you a Wing Commander before long." Well, of course there was no choice. So the next morning I went to work as Base Commander. That was quite an experience working for General Old. We had numerous, numerous (laughing) experiences with him. I really don't know how much to tell you. (Laughing).
Fitch: Let me ask this question: Other than the problem working with General Old what were some of the other problems you experienced as Base Commander?
Butler: Well, let me tell you about some of my experiences.
Butler: A Major General came in as Deputy Commander of 15th Air Force after about a year. He was General James Wilson. He was known throughout the Air Force as ...... well, I won't say it ... and he was a very, very difficult ... very, very strange guy. Very, very demanding. Every Thursday morning he would come down to my office and we'd get in my staff car and drive the base. As we drove the base he'd say: "Look at that! That's terrible! Fix that! Do that! Do this!" He'd make a note of it. Such things as "Change that sign" or "Pick up that" or "Get the grass growing here," and so forth.
Well, when he got back to his office after our tour, he would dictate his notes to the secretary and the secretary would send me down these 5 x 8 cards with all these numbered items on there ... the things that I had to take care of. The following week he would have his copy of that card and we'd go through these same items. Well, General Old found out what was going on. He and General Wilson did not get along at all. Every Saturday morning I quietly had to go up to General Old's office and tell him what General Wilson was doing (Fitch and Butler both laughing) so I had General Old's support on this thing.
Well, this went on for quite a while. Quite a while. After quite a few months, driving around one morning across the street from the old Base Exchange which was alongside the parade ground ... on the parade ground side the curb was painted in red spaces and green spaces. In other words, where you could park and where you couldn't park. The paint was getting pretty shabby and I got a card item after that trip and it said: "Parade ground. Paint curbs here and there." So I did. I had "Here" painted in one space and "There" painted on another one. The following week we're driving around and we go by those curbs and I knew what was gonna happen. (Fitch and Butler both laughing)
"What in the hell is that!?"
And I said, "Number 32." Well, he couldn't help it. Painted "Here" and "There". Well, when I told General Old about that, he thought that was the funniest thing he'd ever heard.
Fitch: That's great!
Butler: Another one he did to me, why, coming out of the Green Acres on to the drive-by ... this street's name was ... gosh! It was the Indian word for California Golden Poppy, Escholzia. It was on the sign there, and General Wilson said, "What is that?"
And I said, "Well, I understand it's the Indian or Mexican name for the California Gold Poppy." I got a card item that said, "Change the name!" So I knew what was going to happen. I had a sign made and it said "Wilson Avenue." I put it up 'cause I knew General Old would be going by that way every morning. Actually I got a call from General Old. "Get up here! What's this Wilson Avenue?"
I said: "He said to change it, but he didn't tell me what to change it to." (Laughing) Again, of course, we took it down and put up the old sign.
Numerous experiences. General Old had some kind of a bladder problem and he had to go to San Antonio to the medical center down there about every six months to get taken care of. He kept his house at 57 degrees with the air conditioner so one time he was on a trip and whenever he was gone, his wife Ms. Annis and the houseboys would turn the heat up or turn the air conditioner off and get things back up to a normal temperature. He came home from a trip unexpectedly one night and went in and said, "My gosh! This is terrible! " They told him the air conditioner wasn't working. (Laughing) He got on the phone at two o'clock in the morning and called my house. Ardith answered the telephone. He said, "Where's Dick?" She said, "Well, he's flying." And I was. He said, "The G__ D____ air conditioner is not workin'. You get over here right away!" This was two o'clock in the morning!
So she went over to General Old's house and he made her sit at the air conditioner until Maintenance arrived. Of course they had to call a man from town. (Laughing) That's the kind of experiences I had. But, nevertheless, why, when the tour was up, even though General Old had left and was replaced by General Martin, General Old had told him about his commitment to me so he made me the Wing Commander of the 320th Bomb Wing at Mather Air Force Base.
Butler: So I went there ... B-52s and that was a wonderful, wonderful assignment as Wing Commander of the 320th Bomb Wing at Mather.
Fitch: Which is in Sacramento, California.
Butler: Sacramento. And I had that job for three years. One of the greatest accomplishments there is that in those three years we never had any kind of an aircraft accident, not even minor accidents ... or an incident. And we never had a single ground fatality in three years, on or off Base.
Fitch: That's outstanding.
Butler: I was as proud of that as anything I ever did.
Fitch: As you should be.
Butler: From that, why, I was there longer than a Wing Commander normally was in those days as a Wing Commander. It was time for me to be reassigned. When we were on Guam and I worked for P.K. Carlton, he was a Colonel then. We became very close friends and family friends. Later, he was promoted and was a Two-Star General in SAC Headquarters as Deputy for Operations. He called me in and said, "I understand you're going to be reassigned. How about coming up here to SAC Headquarters and be Executive Officer in Operations?"
I said, "Well, I sure would rather not. I'd already have two tours up there in SAC Headquarters." He said, "Okay. I understand." The very next day he called me and said, "I've just been assigned as Commander of the 15th Air Force at March and I am being promoted to Lieutenant General. Would you come down there and be Chief of Staff - 15th Air Force." So I only had a little over a year to go to retirement at that time ... fourteen months, I believe. So, again, back to March for my third time at March. I retired at March in January of 1971 and was offered a job in Riverside because I'd made a lot of friends in the civilian community during my years as Base Commander. We had three boys still in school and so, on retirement, I accepted the job in Riverside.
Fitch: Doing what?
Butler: Strangely enough there was a gentlemen I had made good friends with was Stuart Adler and he told me when I was Base Commander, "If you come here when you retire I'd like to talk to you about a job." Okay. Well, I forgot about that, and so when I retired I'd also made very good friends with the Grubbs family, V.W. Grubbs, and they asked me to go to work for them in their flooring business. I did and they ran several trucks, picking up carpeting in Georgia and bringing it out to the Fleetwood Plant and other mobile home factories. I worked for a while running those ... I think there were four or five trucks ... and I wasn't enjoying it at all because I really didn't really fit in with those truck drivers. (Laughing)
Fitch: They didn't fit your style.
Butler: They didn't fit my style because all I knew was safety...safety....safety. Well, the truck drivers were people from Georgia and so forth and I really didn't fit with them at all. They were anxious to make as much money driving as they could. And they would drive all the way from Dalton, Georgia, to Riverside, California, in thirty-six hours! That was in violation of all truck directives and so forth. After they got here with the carpet then part of my job was to line up produce loads for them to take to other places in the United States. Sometimes strawberries to New York or something like that and to get those loads I had to deal with truck brokers, and they were even worse than the drivers. (Laughing)
So I was not very happy after a couple or three months .... and lo and behold ... I got a call from Stuart Adler. He said, "I understand you're retired," and I said, "Yes." He said, "Don't you remember that I told you that I'd like you to think about a job with me." I said, "What's that?" And he said, "Come down and see me." As you remember at that time, Stu was running Owl Rock.
Butler: I went down there and he said, "I am the President of the Board of Trustees of Olivewood Cemetery and we need a new manager there and I'd like you to consider coming to work there." I talked to Ardith about it and she agreed and I went to work at Olivewood for Stu Adler as manager. I took to that job right away because we were taking care of things like we did in the military. The workers were good. We put them in uniforms but, most of all, anybody you worked with coming in ...somebody with a problem ... we were able to help them. Olivewood was and is a non-profit trust. Nobody owned it except the people that owned grave spaces there. Property. The other people on the Board ... a fellow by the name of W. D. Hall, who was a local banker but the most outstanding one was Bill Evans. For the record, Bill Evans was twice the Mayor of Riverside.
Fitch: Yes, I knew him quite well.
Butler: Bill was one of the most wonderful men I ever knew. Of course he was retired but he had an office in Riverside doing something ... tending his properties, I guess. But every day, every day, about noon, he'd come by the cemetery and spend at least an hour with me. I sure thought the world of Bill.
Fitch: For how long did you work for the cemetery?
Butler: I stayed there as Manager until 1983. I went to work there in '71, about three months after I retired from the Air Force. But in '83 I turned 62 and decided that I wanted to travel and do things. I was eligible for Social Security so I retired from the cemetery but I stayed on as a consultant. They'd call me in from time to time. By that time, why, a fellow, W.D. Hall, was gone in 1976 I believe it was, and was replaced by Dale Cunnison who I am sure you know also.
Fitch: Yes, yes.
Butler: So we had a very good Board of Trustees. In 1988 Bill Evans passed away and Stuart immediately called me and asked me if I would come on to the Board of Trustees and I did.
Fitch: You're still on the Board as of today?
Butler: I still am. Stuart was President of the Board and I was the Secretary. Dale Cunnison was still on it. But in 1998 Stuart's age caught up with him and I became President of the Board of Trustees and I am still President of the Board of Trustees, except yesterday I informed the Board that I was ready to bow out. It's gotten to be a little bit more difficult to go there three or four times a week. Frankly, things have changed so much with our culture and so forth. The attitude isn't so much like the one I grew up with with Bill Evans, that the primary job is to help people. Now it's gotten much more commercial and I don't need that at this age.
Fitch: Well, needless to say, you've had an outstanding career, both in the Air Force and as a very upstanding citizen of Riverside. Let's talk a little bit about your family. You mentioned Ardith, you wife. When and where did you meet?
Butler: Ardith and I met when we were in high school ... San Diego High School. We started going together then and married on August 27th, 1942, the same day I got my wings and my commission.
Fitch: That is an outstanding record as far as your marriage is concerned.
Butler: Yeah. Sixty-four years as of now.
Fitch: Great, great. And a little bit about your children ... off-springs?
Butler: Well, I think I mentioned when I was talking about North Africa that our daughter Emily Louise was born in July of 1943 while I was in North Africa. She lives in San Diego and we get together quite frequently. Our oldest son, Richard Ernest, was born in Merced, California, in November 1946. He attended the Air Force Academy and graduated there in 1970 and spent a career -- thirty years -- in the Air Force and retired as a colonel. He lives in Illinois near Scott Air Force Base. He retired in July of 2000 but went to work for Scientific Application International Corporation immediately. They have a contract with the Department of Defense to furnish people with pilot experience into staff positions because there is a shortage of pilots in the Air Force. So he is assigned to Air Mobility Command Headquarters at Scott Air Force Base where he's the Project Officer for the modernization of the C-5 airplane.
Fitch: Wow! That is a responsibility.
Butler: Yeah. Our daughter Kay was born at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, in 1950 and lives in San Diego. The two daughters actually live together. She's had a good career in software setups for big companies. She just happens to be here today getting ready for Thanksgiving.
Butler: Let's see. Then our son David was born in Omaha, Nebraska, when I was stationed there in the IG business. David was born in 1954. He grew up in Riverside and joined the Marines, spent a tour in the Marines and didn't like it and switched over to the Army. He retired from the Army as a Master Sergeant and works for a trucking company in an office in Fontana and lives in Twin Peaks, California.
Fitch: All right.
Butler: He retired as a Master Sergeant. A very, very good golfer ... always has been. My older boy Richard, that I mentioned earlier, that's how he got to the Air Force Academy... it was because of his golf. They wanted him up there for their golf team.
Fitch: And you taught him all he knows about golf.
Butler: (Laughing) Let's see. There's David and then Charles. Charles was born in Savannah, Georgia, when I was there in the B-47 business. He was born in 1958 and grew up mainly in Riverside. He lives in Canton, Georgia. He has a daughter. I forgot to mention grandkids. But, that's all right. He works for Yamaha Marine Products. He is their outboard engine technical guy. He travels around in regard to Yamaha outboard engines. Then the youngest, Dan ... Daniel ... was born in Omaha when we were there in the Personnel business. He lives in Escondido and has two little children, a boy and a girl, and we see them quite frequently. It's interesting that all four of those boys graduated from Poly High School. The oldest one graduated from the old Poly that is now Riverside Community College. The other three all graduated from the newer Poly High School.
Fitch: Well, what a fine family and you have every reason to be very, very proud.
Butler: We certainly are. Ardith did a wonderful job with them. We have I believe seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Fitch: The Butlers carry on, indeed. Yes, they do.
Butler: Back to your military career for a moment ... earlier I'd asked you about various citations and medals and among those you mentioned the Air Medal with clusters, as well as two DFCs, the Distinguished Flying Cross. There was another one that's on your list and that is the Legion of Merit. How did that come about?
Butler: I received the Legion of Merit for my work in the personnel business at SAC Headquarters. Then I received a Cluster to it for my job as Wing Commander for the 320th Bomb wing, and then I received another Cluster to it for my job as Chief of Staff for 15th Air Force.
Fitch: And for good reason I'm sure. I know ... I know.... after having heard you talk about your career. One question that we usually ask those whom we interview is: Would you consider your experience in the military a positive one?
Butler: Positive? Ohhhh! It was a wonderful life.
Fitch: I knew the answer.
Butler: It was really a wonderful life. I don't think I ever worked for an individual I didn't like. I think I always got along well with my superiors. There were some jobs I would like to have done but we did not get the opportunity to have some of the overseas assignments that I hear people talk about, like their wonderful tours in Germany, in Japan, and those places. But being in SAC my whole career, those opportunities just didn't come up. But, that's not sour grapes at all. Life not only for me was good but it was wonderful for our family. You hear people say, "Oh, you move around too much," and so forth. We didn't have to move all that much and it was great experience ... made wonderful friends.
Fitch: Great. Is there anything else Dick that you'd like to talk about during this interview?
Butler: No. I think that's all. I just might put in a little plug for Air Force Village West here. We moved in July of the year 2000. It just dawned on Ardith and I both at the same time, that it was time for us to quit taking care of a big place and to move here. Ardith says frequently, "This is the best decision we ever made to move to Air Force Village West." Being here we will never be an imposition on our kids.
Fitch: That's good.
Butler: They're satisfied. They were hesitant about us moving in here because of that, but we will never be a load on the kids. And we're very, very comfortable and there are wonderful people here.
Fitch: And you're very active in the various events here.
Butler: Oh, yes. Too much. (Laughing) I don't know whether you've heard or not but we're in the process of attempting to build a chapel.
Fitch: Yes. General Goldsworthy mentioned that.
Butler: He's Chairman and it'll be right over there (pointing)... right over there on that hill is where it will be. One of my jobs on the committee is that I am in charge of the stained glass windows. I've got no art know-how, ... (laughing) ... no glass know-how, no construction know-how, and yet General Goldsworthy put me in charge of the stained glass.
Fitch: Well, good luck on that.
Butler: We're really looking forward to building God's House of Worship right here.
Fitch: Excellent. Well, thank you very much Dick for participating in this very important project and for sharing your outstanding military experience, as well as your experiences in various community activities after you retired. Your interview will be reviewed and you will receive your own copy of the tape as well as the transcription of the tape. Copies of this interview will be placed in the Riverside Public Library and probably in the Library of Congress in the Archives of the National Veterans History Project. So, thanks again. This concludes the interview.