Cpl. James Butcher

Age: 90

Unit: Army's 10th Mountain Division

War fronts: Guarded the White House for 27 months with the military police and served as a camp cook in Europe.

His words: He fondly remembers the tricks soldiers played on one another and teasing all the new arrivals: "Shells would come singing over your head and they'd just hit the ground. 'What are you doing down there? Don't worry about the ones you hear. It's the ones you don't hear you got to worry about.'"

On the Web: Watch more of Butcher's story and see profiles of more veterans at www.trib.com/honor

Next week's profile: Elmer Rerucha of Laramie spent four days fighting in Iwo Jima. The photographs in his home show what came after: a life with his wife, four children and 13 grandchildren.

Listen to James Butcher tell it, and there are two ways to do things: the right way and the Army way.

Why else would the Army leave him in the middle of the Italian countryside with enough food for 50 men, but leave him 150 to feed? Butcher, the camp cook, used all of his supplies in one night.

So he did things his way: He heard about another Army camp five miles away and he ordered two cooks to drive there. They gathered whatever flour, sugar and salt they could, but it still was not enough. So Butcher told two more cooks to drive five miles in the opposite direction. They found a Red Cross post and took what they could spare.

Butcher had enough to make pancakes for all 150 men.

“A battle zone is like that. You don't run to McDonald's to get a hamburger."

In January 1942, Butcher was a ranch foreman at just 20 years old. But he quit his job after Pearl Harbor; he didn't know what was about to happen, but he knew he'd be a part of it. His draft papers almost beat him to his hometown, Naples, Utah.

With his experience, he wanted to joint the Cavalry. Instead the Army assigned him to the military police. Once he knew how to do that, they made him a camp cook. That's the Army way for you: "If you was one thing, they tried to get you far away from it."

Butcher had 17 weeks of MP training and was picked to guard the White House. Just his luck, he thought. There with all that brass.

Shorthanded, the Army once forgot all about him. Butcher sat on guard duty in the rain, crouched behind sandbags for almost 18 hours. (He got three days off for the mistake.) He met Mrs. Roosevelt once, and she sent him and other soldiers autographed postcards. He still has it somewhere, but he's not sure just where. He saw the president, too, when Mr. Roosevelt entered through the back door in his wheelchair.

Most importantly, Butcher met his wife. She was from Georgia and had arrived in Washington, D.C., on the same day Butcher had. She worked for the Navy Department and her phone number was the same as the last four digits of Butcher's Army ID. For once, Butcher was thankful for the Army way -- or at least its system of assigning ID numbers.

Butcher was transferred to the 10th Mountain Division Headquarters in Camp Swift, Texas. By Christmas 1944, Butcher was on a train to Hampton Road, Va. He and five other cooks prepared Christmas dinner and all the fixings for 150 men on an old wood stove in the train boxcar.

On Jan. 6, 1945, he landed in Naples, Italy, after 12 days on a boat. They alternated between spaghetti and beans for every meal. On land, they stayed in a new building with no heat or windows and just one Army blanket each. They slept four men to a bed to keep warm. “Only thing we took off was our shoes.”

They loaded onto another boat near the Leaning Tower of Pisa, where the Italian Navy had been sunk. It reminded him of what Pearl Harbor must have looked like. Butcher walked across the hulls of several half-sunk boats.

His wasn't a fighting unit. Some of the guys didn't know how to take apart their rifles. Butcher did. He could do it blindfolded, and did sometimes to show other soldiers how. But they had the sense to duck, he says. Once, while Butcher was cooking dinner, a German sniper pulled off 75 to 100 bullets, ricocheting off Butcher's pots and pans.

Not a soul was hit, except for the German. The Americans got him as he reloaded.

Butcher learned of the birth of his first son by telegram, in February 1945, while serving supper. He knew everyone would demand a cigar, so he stocked up ahead of time.

He got out of the Army on Oct. 12, 1945. It was an experience worth a million dollars, and he wouldn't give a nickel to do it again, he likes to say.

He tried his hand at farming in Utah for a bit, but returned to the oil fields in Evanston. He worked as a carpenter at the State Hospital for 20 years.

“I came here broke and never made enough money to leave."

Butcher killed his first deer at 14 and raised his children on Wyoming game meat, said his son, Rich Butcher of Cody. He long said he wanted to shoot an antelope at age 90.

In September, about two months after talking to the Star-Tribune, doctors found a brain tumor. They told Butcher to count his time in weeks, and, above all, to enjoy it.

Is it all right if I go antelope hunting? Butcher asked, surprising everyone in the doctor's office.

At 90, he went antelope hunting with his grandson, tumor be damned.

Because that, you see, is his way.

They Served With Honor

Some have said that 1,000 World War II veterans die each day in United States. History dies with each one.

"They Served With Honor" is a special project by the Star-Tribune to collect stories from Wyoming World War II veterans. We will feature one story each week, from Veterans Day to Veterans Day.

If you would like to suggest veterans to be featured, please send their names, contact information and a summary of their service to Kristy Gray at kristy.gray@trib.com or P.O. Box 80, Casper, WY, 82601.


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