J.C. Butler said his 26th birthday wasn't outstanding or memorable in any way other than the fact he spent it on board a ship in World War II.
But that day -- D-Day -- was a milestone much of the rest of the world remembers and celebrates. That day, June 6, 1944, marked the beginning of the Normandy invasion by western Allied Forces aimed at undoing the Nazi occupation of Europe during World War II.
"To tell you the truth, I don't remember where I was on D-Day," said Butler, who served nearly four years in the U.S. Army Air Corps. "I don't know where I was that day. Somewhere in the Pacific is all I can think."
Today is the 66th anniversary of D-Day, but Butler prefers to see it as his 92nd birthday.
"It makes it easy to remember my birthday every year," said the longtime Harlem resident.
Butler, an Elbert County native, was drafted and assigned to the Army's 328th Infantry in the 26th Infantry Division, also known as the Yankee Division. After volunteering for the Air Corps, Butler said, he was reassigned to a special unit associated with Project Ivory Soap, a secret project kept classified for more than 50 years.
Aboard the Maj. Gen. Robert Olds, a converted Liberty merchant ship, is where Butler spent most of his military service. He was a radio operator among 400 Air Corps servicemen aboard the ship operated by Merchant Marines and protected by a Navy gun crew.
The ship was one of six floating Aircraft Repair Units that kept airplanes, mainly B-29 bombers, working. Those bombers pounded Japanese cities during the war.
"This ship had all sorts of shops on it," Butler said. "Anything that had to be done to an airplane, they could do it."
The ship was stationed at Tinian, one of the three Northern Marianas Islands near Japan in the Pacific. The two American atomic bombs aimed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were launched from air strips on the island after Butler's ship moved on to Okinawa.
Butler said he likely spent his D-Day birthday without fanfare doing what he normally did -- working shifts at his radio room terminal sending and receiving Morse code messages.
But news from the world came slow.
"We didn't get a lot of news on the ship," Butler said. "What little good news we got came from Armed Services Radio occasionally that came in from Manila or Honolulu. Of course, Tokyo Rose, she always kept us informed and played good music for us."
D-Day was kept a secret beforehand and news of the invasion was slow to travel to the crew of the Robert Olds.
Butler said he didn't immediately associate the invasion with his birthday.
"I wasn't even close to D-Day," he said. "I don't think it even registered for me until after the war was over."
Butler may not remember where he was on D-Day, but he remembers exactly how he heard about Victory in Europe Day, when Nazi Germany's surrender marked the end of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.
He was on the ship deck just off Okinawa watching a movie with shipmates.
"We were sitting there watching this movie when all of a sudden every gun on the island went off," Butler said. "Everybody dived for cover. Come to find out it was V-E Day in Europe. The war had ended in Europe. Those guys on the island, they got the word. We hadn't gotten the word. We thought we were under attack."
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