Two brothers go to war in 1943 but only one returns to Winchester, Virginia

Veterans Voices

WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) — The freedom we Americans enjoy is not free, it comes with a price. Two brothers went off to war in May 1943, but only one of them came home alive. This is their story as told by the brother who survived in the skies over Europe.

Douglas Butler, Aerial Gunner, wearing his Silver Wings Courtesy: Doug Butler

Douglas Butler was born in 1924 on a family farm north of Winchester about a half-mile south of the small village of Nain which hasn’t grown much if any in the past 97 years. However, the village does have a stoplight today and a convenience store.

“Blink as you’re driving north on Route 522,” and you’ll miss it,” said Butler who grew up on that farm with his brother and seven other siblings who were born after Doug and his older brother, Robert, left the farm when they got drafted.

Courtesy: Doug Butler, Photo of the Butler farmhouse; circa 1890

Doug Butler says life on the farm was hard during the Depression. “And that’s why I could hardly wait to get off the farm, even if it meant going into the Army because we had to do things the hard way,” said Butler.

Courtesy: National Archives, Pitching hay the hard way with a pitchfork

“We pitched hay with a pitchfork, picked apples, and plowed the fields with a team of horses. We didn’t have a tractor or a roller to round bale the hay,” said Butler as he talked about growing up on a family farm where everyone, including kids, had to pull their weight. That’s why he was ready to leave the farm when he got his induction notice.

Courtesy: Doug Butler, Greetings from the President

Doug and Robert left Two Oaks Farm on May 19th, 1943, and didn’t look back down the dirt road that led up the hill to Route 522 South, the road that led to Winchester and ultimately to the skies over Europe.

Courtesy: Doug Butler, Staff Sergeant Robert Butler Jr.
Courtesy: Doug Butler, Sgt James “Douglas” Butler

The “Butler Boys” went into the Army, but because Robert had studied aircraft mechanics at Virginia Technical Institute, he got into the U.S. Army Air Corps and trained as a flight engineer on a B-24 Liberator, a heavy bomber based in England with the Eighth Air Force.

Courtesy: U.S. Army Air Corps, B-24 bomber climbing into the sky over England

Doug was sent to the infantry because he didn’t have any experience with aircraft. When they went their separate ways at the induction center in Winchester, they had no idea they would never see each other again. Robert was killed a year later in a mid-air collision over Maintz, Germany.

Courtesy: U.S. Army Air Corps, B-24 bomber falls five miles in flames over Germany

Doug Butler hated every day he was in the infantry and jumped at the chance to go to OCS, Officer Candidate School, and apply for a commission in the Army Air Corps. But when he arrived in San Antonio, Texas for pre-flight training, he was told the Army had enough pilots and if he wanted to fly, he could apply for gunnery school. He did and wound up as a nose-turret gunner on a B-24 bomber based in Southern Italy.

Courtesy: US Army Air Corps, B-24 is surrounded by flak, puffs of black smoke from German anti-aircraft fire bursting in the air

Sgt. James Douglas Butler and his crew flew 35 combat missions over Europe and came back home without a scratch.

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