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From JFK to Doris Day and Shirley Temple, WWII veteran met them all

An elderly man and a child holding an American flag. (Pixabay/Released)

Clyde E. Butcher Jr. was in basic training with the Army Air Corps at Sheppard Field near Wichita Falls, Texas, in August 1945 when he learned the United States had dropped two atomic bombs on Japan.

The dropping of the bombs, followed by Japan’s unconditional surrender, was greeted enthusiastically by Butcher and his fellow trainees.

“I thought, that’s great,” Butcher said. “The fighting was supposed to be over, but it still wasn’t.”

He went to the Philippines to drive trucks on and between air bases while keeping an eye out for the Japanese soldiers who came out at night to attack their American counterparts.

Butcher’s World War II-era service ended when he badly injured his back and was sent stateside to hospitals in California and New York to recover.

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He later worked for three decades as a top customer service manager at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, while playing trumpet and singing in bands well into his 90s and meeting prominent people from the political and entertainment worlds alike.

It all started back in South Dayton, in Cattaraugus County, where Butcher’s family on his father’s side owned a farm and raised registered Guernsey cattle.

Butcher, who had three brothers and a sister, worked on the farm and delivered milk for an uncle’s dairy trucking company.

He had picked up the trumpet in fourth grade and played and sang in bands – one was called the Sweethearts of Rhythm – that performed throughout the area.

After graduating from South Dayton High School in 1942, Butcher said he tried to enlist in the Navy. “They wouldn’t take me because I had flat feet,” Butcher said.

That didn’t stop the Army Air Corps – the precursor to the Air Force – which drafted him in 1945. They trained him as a navigator because Butcher said he had a mind for math.

After basic training, Butcher said he had three days’ leave before he had to meet his unit in Salt Lake City. That gave him just enough time to marry Dolores Clement, who he met through a mutual friend who played accordion in one of Butcher’s bands.

It was then off to Utah and Sacramento where, while waiting to board a troop transport, Butcher met movie star Shirley Temple through a fellow airman, John Agar, who had married her a few weeks earlier.

Butcher’s voyage to the Philippines lasted 13 days. It was his first time on a boat, Butcher said, and he and some other musicians performed for their shipmates to help pass the evenings. “That was entertainment,” he said.

Once he arrived in the Philippines, Butcher said, “They didn’t need the bombers anymore. I worked as a truck driver over there.”

It was still dangerous, Butcher recalled, and someone he knew was hacked to death while on the job. He said Japanese soldiers who had run out of ammunition would come down from the mountains after dark armed with knives, machetes or bayonets.

Butcher never was attacked, but one day he got a flat tire and, while trying to change the massive tire, threw out his back. A buddy convinced him to go to the base hospital, where he learned he had ruptured his fifth lumbar vertebrae. Butcher returned to the United States on a hospital ship.

“I was happy to be going home,” he said.

While in Southern California, waiting to head to a hospital in Utica, he got a chance to sit in with Les Brown’s big band and sing a duet on “Baby, it’s Cold Outside,” with Doris Day, the well-loved entertainer who died recently.

In March 1946 Butcher received a medical discharge and went back home to his wife.

He worked for Capital Airlines, later part of United, in Newark, N.J., Chicago and Buffalo for about 30 years.

Butcher packed up his family in a mobile home each time before, at his wife’s insistence, in 1964 they bought the house in Alden that he still occupies.

In his role as a senior customer service agent, Butcher met notable people, including three presidents: Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

On the side, Butcher continued to play trumpet and flugelhorn and to sing in bands. When Louis Armstrong came to Jamestown, for example, Butcher sang “When You’re Smiling” with the jazz legend.

He played in the West Seneca Town Band as late as last year, he said.

“My music was my hobby,” Butcher said.

His wife died in 2014 after 69 years of marriage. Today he stays busy with his three children, seven grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and many other relatives.

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Clyde E. Butcher Jr., 94

Hometown: South Dayton

Residence: Alden

Branch: Army Air Corps

Rank: Private

War zone: Pacific theater

Years of service: 1945-46

Honors: Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal

Specialty: Trained as navigator, but drove trucks

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© 2019 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.