Klamath Falls, Ore. – More than 16 million U.S. soldiers fought in World War 2.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are now less than 500 thousand still living.
NBC2’s Lyle Ahrens spoke with one of those surviving heroes from Klamath Falls.
Mickey Butler enlisted in the Air Force the day Pearl Harbor was bombed.
He turned 18 years old three weeks later.
“I didn’t want to get drafted.” Explains Butler. “I wanted to go into the Air Force.”
Butler served as a radio operator and aerial gunner on a B-17.
He flew 50 missions.
The bomber was named ‘Mary Lou’, after the pilot’s mother.
“That was a wonderful plane, as far as I’m concerned.” Notes Butler. “We never got shot down in it.”
Butler says some of his most dangerous missions were over Romania. “One of our worst targets we had to go over, was those Ploesti oil fields. That’s were the Germans got all their oil from. And man, they had guns, guns around that thing.”
Second Lieutenant David R. Kingsley was one of the many airmen killed while bombing the Ploesti oil fields.
“You went over there, you lost a plane.” Recalls Butler. “We lost six one mission over Ploesti, that’s sixty guys – there’s ten guys on a plane.”
Butler says the ‘Mary Lou’ served her country well. “It was pretty well beaten up, but it was still flying when I left – but I think shortly after I left, they had to replace it – it was shot up so bad.”
Mickey Butler met his future wife Peggy in grade school in Klamath Falls.
They wed after his military discharge, and were married for 64 years until Peggy’s death 10 years ago.
Butler still lives in Klamath Falls.
When asked if he’s a ‘hero’, Butler laughs. “I don’t think so. I don’t feel myself that I’m a hero – I feel I’m lucky. I’m just lucky.”
Mickey Butler retired from the railroad over 30 years ago, he’ll turn 95 in December.
KOTI-TV NBC2 reporter Lyle Ahrens moved from Nebraska to Klamath Falls in the late 1970’s. He instantly fell in love with the mountains, the trees and the rivers, and never once regretted the move.Lyle’s job history is quite colorful.
He’s managed a pizza parlor; he’s been a bartender, and a “kiwifruit grader” at an organic orchard in New Zealand. A Klamath Falls radio station hired Lyle in the mid 90’s as a news writer and commercial producer. In 2004, Lyle joined the KOTI/KOBI news operation.Lyle notes with pride that he has a big responsibility presenting the Klamath Basin to a wide and varied audience.
“The on-going water crisis has underscored the fact that the people and the issues in the Klamath Basin are every bit as diverse as the terrain. Winning and keeping the trust of the viewers, as well as the newsmakers, is something I strive for with each story”.
When he’s not busy reporting the news, Lyle enjoys astronomy, playing guitar, fixing old radios and listening to anything by Sheryl Crow.