Barbara Butler was born in Syracuse, New York in 1921. Her father was a salesman so they moved around a lot when she was a child. She attended a number of different schools and that was hard for her. After graduating high school she attended the New York State College for Teachers which is now part of the State University of New York system. Butler graduated high school in 1939. At that time a student at her college who pledged to teach for at least two years after graduating did not have to pay tuition. Butler lived at home with her parents and worked after school hours and during the summer to cover her college expenses. Butler was studying for a physics exam when she learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Her father had the radio on an that's how she was notified. It was devastating. Many of the men in her classes left to go off to war and by the time she graduated in 1943 most of her classmates were females. After graduating she taught science and math at a school in a small Dutch community called Castleton on Hudson. She was the first woman science teacher at the school. When the male faculty went off to work the faculty was made up of mostly women. Butler tried to get into the military and go through officer training but was rejected because she wore glasses. She later saw a newspaper article in a New York newspaper that the American Red Cross was looking for people to serve overseas as recreation workers. She volunteered and was accepted after two days of grueling interviews. She was given a list of clothing and equipment to buy and was told to go to Washington DC for training. Butler was 23 years old at the time. The age requirement had been lowered from 25 to 23. Most of the people in her training class were teachers. Butler took her training at American University in Washington DC. After completing her training she was sent to Camp Pickett, Virginia for two weeks to get an idea of what she would be doing in the Red Cross. She then returned to Washington DC to get her orders. Butler's first choice for overseas service was Australia but she did not get it. Her second choice was the Philippines which she did get. She travelled to Camp Stoneman, California where she boarded a ship for the Philippines. After 17 days at sea she arrived in Manila. The trip was very boring. It was not like a cruise ship is today. The Red Cross workers were housed in a military encampment where they waited to get their orders. Butler arrived in Manila in October 1943 [Annotator's Note: more likely 1944]. She was overseas from 1943 to 1946.
Barbara Butler's first installation was on Leyte. Her living quarters were very close to the beach where General MacArthur [Annotator's Note: General Douglas MacArthur] had returned. Many of the Red Cross workers shared quarters with USO [Annotator's Note: United Services Organization] performers and nurses. There were a lot of nurses who were returning home. Some of the nurses who had been in Australia and the South Pacific for a long time had leathery skin and were yellow from the malaria medication [Annotator's Note: the anti malarial drug Atabrine]. When they set up a Red Cross installation most of the work they did was just talking to the servicemen. Many of the servicemen had not seen a woman in years. The Red Cross provided reading and writing materials. They also handled V-Mail for the men. If they could round up enough girls they would host dances. Most of the servicemen did not share much of what they had been through with the Red Cross girls. Butler was only on Leyte with the Army for a couple of months. She was then transferred to the island of Samar where they set up another Red Cross club. Butler felt that the men at the naval installation on Samar were a different breed but were very nice and they did not have much interaction with them. After a time she was sent to an Air Force installation on Palawan. Butler feels that the servicemen they encountered appreciated them. Not so much for what they could give them materially but just being able to talk to them. She thinks that the Red Cross girls reminded the servicemen of their wives, girlfriends and mothers. Travelling across the world was a great adventure. Butler made a lot of very good friends throughout her Red Cross career from all over the United States. She stayed in contact with some of her friends after the war. The people she worked with were good people and were skilled in what they did. There were usually two women assigned to each Red Cross club. When she was in Korea there were 3,000 men that visited the club so hosting a dance was impossible. The Red Cross also made coffee and donuts for the servicemen. Butler made thousands and thousands of donuts while she was overseas.
Barbara Butler wrote home frequently. She tried to explain to her family what she was going through and to reassure them that she was ok. She would explain the topography of the places she went to. Being in the Philippines was the first time Butler had been in the tropics. She once went swimming on Christmas Day and that was something different. The interview Butler went through when she volunteered for the Red Cross was partly to ensure that she would be able to handle being away from home for an extended period of time. She was overseas for two and a half years and was only able to maintain contact through letters and an occasional phone call. When she first entered the Red Cross she was told that if she were captured she held the equivalent of a second lieutenant. She later got promoted to the equivalent of a first lieutenant. Butler was in Washington DC on VJ-Day [Annotator's Note: Victory Over Japan Day] and thought that she would be sent home but learned that they were needed in the occupation. The people in the Philippines were very poor. They had gone without for much of the time the Japanese occupied the Philippines. After leaving Palawan Butler returned to Manila. While waiting there for her orders she got acquainted with some Filipino women. She was invited into their homes and even took part in a May Day parade. She attended a feast where the banquet tables were so tall that they had to stand to eat. She learned not to finish any item on her plate or it would be refilled. The banquet lasted all day. That was the closest she came to being acquainted with the native population. Except for in Manila she had no contact with the locals. Butler served in Korea for a year and a half. She was transferred there from Manila. She flew from Manila to Okinawa and from there to Tokyo. She was briefly billeted in a hotel next to the emperors palace. They would peek through the gates but could not see much. While at the hotel in Tokyo if they had not received orders for the day by nine o'clock in the morning they were free for the day. Butler took advantage of this and visited a number of places in Japan while she was there.
Barbara Butler got her orders and flew to Seoul, Korea. She was sent to a replacement depot at an Army installation. There, she had about 3,000 men to care for. They provided writing materials, books, cards, coffee and donuts to the men. If the servicemen were to be there for a few days, Butler would sometimes arrange trips into the countryside. This was after the war and it was safe to travel. In Korea Butler had the most unusual experience of her Red Cross career. She was serving coffee to a serviceman and it turned out to be a former student of hers. They were very surprised to see each other. The man had been a trouble maker in school but all that was behind them and they were happy to see each other. Butler spent a year and a half at the replacement depot. Butler boarded a ship in Inchon, Korea. Inchon is unique in that the tides there are 30 feet. The ship she went aboard was a Navy transport. She had deployed overseas on an Army transport. The Navy transport took her in to Seattle. From there she went down to Red Cross Headquarters in San Francisco to get her release papers. On the way she stopped in Eugene, Oregon to see two of her friends she had served overseas with. After an enjoyable stay with her friends she continued on to San Francisco. After obtaining her release papers in San Francisco she flew home to New York. She had arrived in Seattle on 1 March [Annotator's Note: 1 March 1946]. Everything there was green. When she got to New York City there was a blizzard and she could not get a flight to Albany and had to take a train. Seeing her folks again was wonderful. During the time she was overseas many of her friends had gotten married and moved away and she had a hard time figuring out what she wanted to do. She took a job as a substitute teacher but she knew that was something she did not want to do. She tried to volunteer for the Red Cross again but she was not needed.
Serving in the Red Cross made Barbara Butler a more forceful and less shy person. It improved her leadership skills and broadened her horizons. It basically made her a better person. Butler feels that the Red Cross proved that women could not only do those types of jobs but do them well. She credits the interview process with weeding out the bad apples. To the people who see this video years down the line, Butler states that they [Annotator's Note: the World War 2 generation] served their country to make a better world for them. Butler feels that educating young people about World War 2 is important. She feels that having institutions like The National WWII Museum is also important in order to show what her generations went through and why they do certain things. Also to show the medical miracles that came about as a result of the war.
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