WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) — Who said you could never go home? Doug Butler, who left his family farm when he and his older brother were drafted into the Army in May of 1943, returned to the family farm this summer where they were born and grew up as boys.
Robert Butler couldn’t come. He was killed in action when his B-24 Liberator collided over Maintz, Germany during a bombing raid in October 1944.
Doug Butler says Robert would have been as surprised as he was when he returned to their birthplace at Two Oaks Farm off Route 522 on the north side of Winchester.
“This is the first time I’ve been here since I left to go into the service,” said Butler, a 96-year-old B-24 nose turret gunner who cheated the “Grim Reaper” over Maintz two months after his brother was killed.
When I asked why he never returned to the farm after the war, Butler said, “I had no desire to get back until now. I wanted to come back and see what everything looks like.”
Standing in the front yard in front of a white picket fence, Butler held a photo taken of his birthplace in 1890. “I was born up there on the second floor in the bedroom to the left,” said Butler, “But my dad wasn’t in the room when I was born.” Robert Butler Sr. was fighting a fire in the orchard that occupied most of the 290-acre farm.
Butler was blown away to find that the farmhouse was still standing since his birth in 1924. “It’s almost unbelievable. This was once a part of my life, and it was a beautiful house then and now,” said Butler who told me that he and his brother had to whitewash the picket fence every year with liquified lime. “That would burn out eyes and skin if some of it splashed on us,” laughed Butler, “But we got the job done.”
Life was hard growing up on a farm during the Great Depression. “We had to do things the hard way,” said Butler.
But the hard work from daylight till dark, seven days a week for 17 years made men out of boys, and women out of girls. Butler and his eight siblings had jobs on the family farm. “I was the chicken man,” chuckled Butler who gathered eggs when he was five years old and put them in the “cooler,” a cool spring on the backside of the farm. The Butler family didn’t have refrigeration or tractors to plow the land and plant corn for the cattle they raised.
At the age of eight, Doug was promoted to “manure man.” It was his job to “pick up poop” in the barnyard and spread it on the fields.
Sometimes he would scoop up some rocks and the rear tines on the horse-drawn manure spreader would fling rocks at him and the horses; causing them to gallop at full speed across the bumpy field.
The Butlers were in the apple business. “Big Time,” said Doug who had to spray, pick and pack apples to be sent to cold storage plants in Winchester.
When I asked Butler about his most cherished moment of life on the farm, I thought might mention his mother who made his clothes and cottage cheese, his favorite food, but instead, he said, “I think the most cherished memory is getting off the farm.”
Doug Butler saw his induction notice as his ticket to freedom. However, he regrets the draft notice his brother Robert received on the same day was a one-way ticket.
Staff Sergeant Robert Butler was buried in a mass grave with the men who died with him in Germany. After the war, his mother requested that the Army bring him home he was buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Winchester. His parents were buried next to him when they died.
Every time Doug Butler puts a new flag on their graves, he remembers the good times they had living on the farm.
“It was a great place to live,” said Butler, “If you didn’t have to leave and go into the Army.”