WW2 Eyewitness – Tom Butterfield

We are losing hundreds of Second World War veterans every day, and with them eyewitness accounts of the most pivotal conflict of the twentieth century.

Thankfully before my father passed away I got a couple of hours on tape, chatting to him about his wartime experiences. When she is older, my two year old daughter will have a valuable link to her grandfather and his experiences during the war.

There are various schemes to collect WW2 memories such as the BBC’s Peoples War, the Veterans History Project and Don Keith’s Untold Millions oral history project.

Tom Butterfield, 1944

Tom Butterfield, 1944

So it was a great pleasure when when listener Tom Butterfield emailed this story of his father’s service during both WWII and Korean.

My father joined the Marine Corps in 1939. Although he wasn’t part of those first naval battles he was in one of the first few waves at Guadalcanal.
He was in several of the amphibious assaults and took some shrapnel in his leg and hind quarters. They patched him up in Australia and put him right back with his outfit.
After the war he married my mother and got a job at the Bard Florist in Berkeley. 
 
He neglected to resign from the Marine Corps Reserve and just about the time Mother noticed, his unit was called up.
He was in one of the first few waves at Inchon. There wasn’t much resistance there so he led his squad (he’s now a sergeant) on the road to Seoul. That march took about 12 days. As soon as the navel bombardment ended his unit was ordered into the city. 
 
As the squad leader he was the first to round the corner of a building where a North Korean machine gun opened fire. He was hit in the leg, buttocks, back and in the head. That one entered his head at the temple and exited through his right ear. He fell near a burning pile of wood. His next memory is in a hospital in Tokyo. The first thing he saw was a little Japanese nurse rubbing his feet to keep the circulation going. 
 
Tom Butterfield, 2015: You can still see where the armor piercing round hit him on his right temple

Tom Butterfield, 2015:
You can still see where the armor piercing round hit him on his right temple

Our families good fortune lies in the way the North Koreans loaded their machine gun belts. The repeating sequence was 3 lead balls a tracer and an armor piercing round. So he caught a lead ball in his leg, another in his buttocks. The tracer hit him in the back and it was the armor piercing round that entered his head. Since that round had a steel jacket it didn’t deform as it traveled through his head. The round exited very neatly through his ear. The only scar is a dimple in his temple. 

He’s 94 now and he lives in a VA nursing home near our home in Grass Valley California. He can’t remember anything that happened 5 minutes prior. To entertain him, I retell the stories he told us over my 60 years.

If you have any Second World War family stories you would like to share send them to me and we’ll put them up on the site.

angus(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)thehistorynetwork.org