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Baxter veteran served during bombing of Japan

Baxter resident Max Butler enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in December of 1942. After the war, he returned to Iowa and worked at the Baxter Post Office for 33 years.
Baxter resident Max Butler enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in December of 1942. After the war, he returned to Iowa and worked at the Baxter Post Office for 33 years.

Max Butler beat the draft.

When he saw the threat of the draft hanging over his head, he made the same choice as many from his generation.

Max took destiny into his own hands and enlisted in the Army Air Force in December of 1942, just as gasoline rations took effect in the United States and American bombers struck the Italian mainland for the first time.

He was ordered to basic training in the newly opened training facility at Sheppard Field, Texas. Upon completion, Max was able to spend three months at the University of Minnesota, where he studied world history and other subjects, before being called into active duty on April 3, 1943.

He received his orders to report to a school for mechanics in Amarillo, Texas. While there, Max learned to work with the various aircraft in the Army Air Force’s arsenal, and he later received training in Amarillo to work with the B-29 Superfortress, the iconic bomber used by the United States at the end of the war to drop ordinance over Japan, including the atomic payloads over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

He was sent on to Inglewood, Calif., where he was trained to perform maintenance on the North American B-25 Mitchell, a twin engine medium bomber that came into service in 1941 and was used across all theaters of the war.

Max received the last of his training in Pyot, Texas. His young wife, Lela, moved there to live near the base as Max worked aboard a B-29 in combat training, preparing him and the rest of the crew for their impending deployment to Japan.

Well after the famous battle of Saipan, Max and his crew were hauled to the island base which was then used as a forward strike location for the Army Air Force. The key base put them within 1,300 miles of the Japanese islands, placing the majority of Japanese cities within striking distance of the B-29 bombers.

“We flew on eight combat missions while we were there,” Max said. He described the weapons used on the B-29 during the island hopping campaign in the Pacific Theatre.

“Whenever our recon said that the runways were good enough, they’d send us in there,” Max said. “We came home once with holes in the wings … they had good [anti-aircraft] shells that they fired at us.”

Max’s time in the Pacific Theater was not long lived. After several months of deployment, on the crew’s way back from its last bombing mission, they heard about the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

“We were lucky as hell … America was lucky as hell.”

Max returned to the United States in October of 1945, the same month the Nazi war crime trials began in Nuremberg and the United Nations charter came into effect.

“They gave us 45 days of rest and recuperation, so I came home,” he said.

Max rejoined his wife, Lela, in Iowa. When the choice to re-enlist or to come accept his discharge came down the wire, there was little choice at all for Max. He accepted his discharge from the United States Army and rejoined the civilian world.

Max and his father operated a mechanic’s shop in Baxter for several years, until a fire claimed their business in October of 1952. After that, Max worked for a year in Newton and then for Standard Oil in Baxter.

Eventually, the postmaster position opened up in Baxter, and Max got the job, which is how most people in the community still remember him. He worked in the Baxter Post Office for 33 years, helping to raise his sons, Dan, Jack and Dave, before retiring in January of 1988.

Staff writer Matt Nosco may be contacted at (515) 674-3591 or at

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