2nd Lieutenant John E. Butts
– Company E, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division –
– Medal of Honor –
John Edward Butts was born on August 4th, 1922 in Medina New York to Jerry and Anna (Hogan) Butts. John was one of six brothers, five of whom served in World War II. John attended Medina High school and played right guard on the football team.
He enlisted in The National Guard in Medina in 1939 while still in high school (largely to partake of the athletic activities at the Armory, noted his father). John would later finish his high school requirements while in the army. His brother Charles, a year older, joined the National Guard in 1940. The National Guard was federalized in October 1940 and John left Medina soon after for training at Fort McClellan in Alabama. He was only 17 years of age at the time and had to overstate his age to join the military.
In February 1942, as part of Company F of the 108th Infantry Division, John and his brother Charles, were sent to Hawaii, three months after Pearl Harbor was attacked. In November, 1942, John returned to the mainland of the United States to attend Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. John graduated from Officer Candidate School at the age of 19, and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. At that time in 1942, he was noted to be the youngest commissioned officer in the Army Ground Forces.
After graduation, John requested overseas duty and took part in the battle of North Africa. John took part in the Invasion of Sicily and the Italian campaign before being sent to England in October 1943 to train for the invasion of France. John was cited for bravery in the invasion of Sicily.
On June 6th, 1944, American troops landed on Utah Beach and Omaha Beach on the Northeast Coast of Normandy, France as part of D-Day. John was not a member of the first wave of troops, but came ashore there several days later at Utah Beach. He was the Platoon Leader of four squads in Company E, 60th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Division. American forces were attempting to cut across the Cherbourg Peninsula, then to liberate the Port of Cherbourg.
John was painfully wounded on June 14th near the small village of Orglandes. John refused treatment for that wound and continued leading his platoon in battle.
On the 16th of June, sharp fighting ensued as his unit crossed the Douve River. John was again wounded, but refused all aid for his wounds.
On June 23rd, 1944, the 9th Infantry Division was fighting its way field after field through murderous German fire to take the Hedgerow country near the small village of Flottenmanville-Hague, still in Normandy. At stake was the all-important breakout At St.Lo., a goal sought since Allied landing on D-Day. John led an assault on a tactically important and well defended hill studded with tanks, anti-tank guns and pillboxes protected by machine guns and mortars. A burst of machine gun fire caught John across the middle of his body. He managed to crawl back into the shelter of a hedgerow where he called his Sergeants to him and then directed two squads into flanking action while holding one in reserve. Then holding his hand over his stomach, firing his carbine from the hip, John pulled himself up and charged the hill alone. When he died a few minutes later he was only 10 yards from his objective. While the entire German force had been shooting down one man, the squads John had sent out had flanked the hill. They charged from both sides. As the enemy turned their attention to the flanks, the third squad hit them head-on. 23 enemy dead were counted later.
Lt. Butts became the first member of his division to win the Medal of Honor. John’s brother Charles, who was in the army and stationed nearby, visited his brothers body.
Soon after, Charles wrote a letter to his parents. It said in part “John’s life reached a glorious end. It terminated exactly as John hoped it would – while performing magnificently in the face of the enemy…in an effort to relieve pressure on his men and buddies”. The of seeing his dead brother tortured Charles all his life.
John was then buried in the United States Military Cemetery in Ste-Mère-Église, in Normandy.
The date and time of his burial was 2200 hours on June 25th, 1944. He was 21 years of age.
John’s remains were disinterred, four years later, on April 8, 1948, and placed in a casket for shipping back to the United States. John’s body arrived back home in Medina on July 7, 1948, with a full military escort. He was honored with a military procession in Medina and re-interred in the St. Mary’s Cemetery in Medina with full military rites.
A citation for the awarding of the Medal of Honor posthumously to 2nd Lieutenant John E. Butts was signed by The President of the United States at the time, Harry Truman.
Since then the name of Lt John E. Butts has been memorialized many times: The John E Butts Army Airfield, at Fort Carson, Colorado, an ocean going ship, the Lt. John E Butts streets, three to be precise: one at Ft Carson, Co., one at Ft Benning, Ga., and one at Ft Dix, N.J., the Butts-Clarks American Legion Post, Medina, N.Y., a display at the Utah Beach Museum in Normandy, and the John E. Butts Memorial Park in Medina, N.Y.
The Medal of Honor:
John’s original Medal Of Honor and other medals are now on display at the Lee-Whedon Memorial Library in Medina. The original medal still resides here today. The library also has his diary from boot camp and one of his dog tags. In Normandy, France, a copy is on display at the Utah Beach Museum.
Thinking back about John, his father Jerry Butts remarked:
“Even as a young boy, John was fearless“.
May 2nd Lt. John E. Butts rest in peace.
I would like to thank the relatives of John Butts for sharing all their personal information about John with me. Thank you.