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Hard work, good genes help WWII vet reach 100 years old

100th birthday (MatissDzelve/Pixabay)

To Arthur Butler, the secret to living to 100 years old is relatively simple.

“Working and good genes,” he said with a laugh.

It wasn’t always that simple for Butler, who celebrated his 100th birthday Friday with a handful of celebrations at his home at the New Horizons assisted living facility. The Framingham native served in the Army during World War II as his company’s mail clerk. Though he was spared from the front lines, he did face combat in Okinawa.

“When I got there, the fighting was going on,” he said.

On the night of June 17, 1945, Butler was sleeping in a foxhole when his buddy tapped him on the shoulder and squeezed off a shot at a Japanese soldier in the distance. An explosion followed and the then-24-year-old Butler was hit with grenade shrapnel up and down his right side.

“Japanese metal was pretty rusty,” he said.

Butler had serious wounds, which ended up getting infected, and he underwent two operations while hospitalized for several weeks. He credits penicillin for saving his life.

He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, which are encased in a shadow box in his room at New Horizons.

Not long after Butler returned to his unit, the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs, marking the end of the war.

The longtime Southborough resident was then shipped to Korea, where he helped keep military records for nine months before being brought back to the United States in 1946.

Residents from throughout the city came together Friday to celebrate Butler’s 100th birthday and honor his military service. A social media campaign was started several weeks ago encouraging residents to write a birthday card to Butler.

Marlborough firefighter Michael Cisek learned of the birthday card effort and wanted to take it further.

“We definitely owe it to him,” he said.

Cisek and several members of the department presented an honorary Marlborough Fire Department helmet with the Purple Heart and Bronze Star decals on the back during a brief ceremony Friday morning.

“I like to see those fellows,” said Butler.

Marlborough Veterans Agent Mike Hennessy presented Butler with an American flag that flew over the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C, on Veterans Day on behalf of Congresswoman Lori Trahan. Mayor Arthur Vigeant and Trahan presented proclamations to Butler.

Later in the afternoon, more than 50 cars, including the Marlborough Police and Southborough Fire departments, participated in a drive-by birthday and salute to service parade for Butler at New Horizons. Many stopped and briefly wished Butler a happy birthday and thanked him for his service.

Mark Vital, who organized the parade, said it’s critical to recognize and honor the remaining members of “The Greatest Generation.”

“That’s the least we can do for someone who’s made such a sacrifice for us,” said Vital, who noted it is rare for someone to reach 100 years of age. “We won’t be able to show our respect to this generation much longer. It’s really important to tell him how much we honor and respect him.”

Butler was surprised by the fanfare surrounding his birthday.

“It’s almost overwhelming to see all this,” he said of the day’s festivities. “I’m quite surprised. …It’s more than I ever expected to see all this.”

After his military service ended, Butler spent much of his adult life managing the insurance department at the old Waltham Savings Bank.

He spent many hours in the garden at his Southborough home and was a member of a local train enthusiast club — the Wasushakum Live Steamers — and bought his own steam locomotive in 1967.

Butler called it an honor to reach 100.

“I had never taken on trying to reach 100,” he said. “I took it year by year.”

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