By BRAD KELLAR
In the spring of 1943, Private First Class Arlen Butler was fresh out of boot camp, preparing to head overseas to do his part for the United States Army in World War II.
Seventy years later, Butler, 93, of Cash, can still tell the stories of the landing at D-Day and fighting in the decisive Battle of the Bulge as a member of the 23rd Infantry Division.
He earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart among many other awards, but don’t expect Butler to claim he was a “hero” for his military service.
“I am just a plain old ex-GI, but I have done a few things,” Butler said.
In more recent times, Butler has been active in relaying his tales of the war and in fighting to make sure veterans receive the benefits they have coming.
“I may be the only World War II vet here in Hunt County that took part in the invasion and in the Battle of the Bulge both,” Butler said.
He also realizes there aren’t many World War II veterans in the county these days.
As Quartermaster for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post in Greenville, Butler knows of two veterans of World War II among its company. He isn’t aware of any with the local Disabled American Veterans post.
“The American Legion has got four or five guys that are World War II vets,” Butler said. “There’s not a whole bunch of us here in Hunt County.”
Butler said he was among the second wave landing on Omaha Beach and marched across France and into Germany.
“We made the very first bridgehead across the Rhine River,” Butler said.
His unit was involved in helping liberate European POW camps.
“You could count their ribs, they were so skinny,” Butler said of some of the prisoners they freed. “They were almost skin and bones.”
Butler was wounded in the right leg and foot when the 23rd Infantry encountered German soldiers while attempting to defuse booby traps.
He and the rest of his unit ended up in Czechoslovakia when the war ended. He was discharged from the Army in 1945 at Fort Sam Houston.
He made trip to France for the 50th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion and received a special gold medal to recognize his efforts.
Butler helped organize the Northeast Texas Veterans Coalition and served as its president for most of its history. For several years, the group was dedicated to making veterans aware of the benefits they had earned and how to apply for them.
“We closed it out earlier this year,” Butler noted. At the start Butler said 35 to 40 veterans, many of whom had served in World War II, regularly attended the meetings.
“And then it just gradually came down,” Butler said. “I think this last meeting we just had seven people.”
Butler was involved and stood guard annually for nine years during the Veterans Vigil program at Texas A&M University-Commerce. He also speaks regularly about his experiences to students at Ford High School in Quinlan and Bryan Adams High School in Dallas.
“They call me and I’ll go over and talk to them,” Butler said.
In October, Butler was also a lecturer as part of the East Texas War and Memory Project at the university.
He helps his wife Trevelyan operate a gift shop in Quinlan and occasionally on Friday nights he will entertain an audience by singing karaoke to the tunes of Hank Williams, Eddy Arnold or Lefty Frizzell.
While still with the Coalition, Butler helped bring “The Moving Wall”, a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, to the West Tawakoni City Park.
“We had some money left over, so I bought a vet memorial which is down there now,” Butler said.
He recalled bus loads of children arriving to check out the “Moving Wall” and learn more about the sacrifices made by those who served. Butler hopes to see it again.
“We are trying to see if we can get the wall brought back to Hunt County within the near future, say the next couple or three years,” Butler said.
Until then, Butler said he intends to keep doing what has kept him busy for the past several years.
“I am going to keep on fighting for veteran’s rights,” he said.