WINTHROP — Timed to take place the week of Veterans Day, the Alfred W. Maxwell Jr. American Legion Post 40 paid tribute to its members who served during World War II.

Clifford West, 99, and Robert Thayer, 91, both of Winthrop, were on hand for the ceremony. In total, the post has 10 members who were in World War II. During a ceremony Thursday, Post Commander Colin Hewitt said they considered its World War II members to be “part of the greatest generation.”

The magnitude of the recognition was felt by Camden Graves, 15, a Winthrop High School freshman who attended with his father, Neil, a member of the post.

“It is really cool going up to them and asking what it was like back then,” he said.

Clifford West

“People like Cliff are a hero to a lot of us in the community,” Hewitt said. 

World War II veteran Clifford West, right, was recognized Thursday for his service, during a special ceremony at Winthrop American Legion Post 40. West was presented with an award by Post Commander Colin Hewett, left.

West enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, the 1st Marine Division, in 1942. He was living in Bangor. 

“It was a different way of life,” West said. “You were regimented.” 

He was a regimental forward observer, coordinating with other firepowers directing air strikes on enemy positions. 

“There were times in the first few days,”West said, “where it did not look like we were going to win or survive holding the island. We lucked out.”

This was the island of Peleliu, which was heavily defended by Japanese when West and his unit arrived. Unable to reach the shore by boats, the men had to wade through water up their armpits, he said, while being fired on. 

“The casualties were tremendous,” West said. “It was rated as one of the most tragic battles in the Pacific.”

West served again with the Marines during the Korean conflict in 1950; in total he gave the U.S. 27 years of active service. 

Before entering the service, he married his wife, Patricia. 

“We were married seven months before I was shipped overseas,” West said. “I was fortunate to have a family that adjusted to it.”

In those times, military couples could not keep connected through video conferencing, instant messaging or electronic mail. They relied on mail. 

“Mail took about a month to be delivered there,” West said. “We were quite restricted on what you wrote, and all mail was subject to censorship.”

West and his wife, who died six years ago after being married to him 72 years, have four daughters, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. 

“I could not ask for much more from life,” he said. 

Robert Thayer

Robert Thayer was living in Auburn when he joined the U.S. Navy. He served in World War II in the Mediterranean Sea. He also volunteered to serve in the Korean War. 

Thayer has three children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. 

Fraternal Twins Richard and Robert Butler

Fraternal twins Richard (Dick) and Robert (Bob) Butler, now 94, were about to graduate from Cony High School in Augusta when they enlisted in the Army Air Corps, now known as the U.S. Air Force. 

Dick is a member of Post 40. The twins live in Zephyrhills, Florida, and were not able to attend the ceremony. 

Dick and Bob were responsible for providing communication between forces on the ground and in the air, serving in the war for two and a half years. They were in the northern part of Luzon Island in the Philippines getting ready to invade Japan at Hiroshima when the first atomic bomb landed. 

“They were looking for a real killing machine,” Dick said of the atomic bombs. “They were not going to give up on the first one, but the second one changed their minds.” 

“It was a relief to know that we were not going to go,” Bob said. “If we had, we probably would not have come home.” 

Once the treaty was signed, Dick said, the pair became part of occupational groups in Japan. 

Before flying into Tokyo, riding in a C-47 transport plane, they were able to see the devastation from the bombs. 

“Everything was demolished,” Bob said. “We could see everything burned to a crisp.” 

Bob and Dick described dark lumps they could see from the plane. Those were metal safes of residents, which withstood the bombs, Bob said. 

The brothers enlisted in the military in the steps of their father, a World War II veteran.

“I think it was because of his backing that we volunteered to go in this (war),” Dick said.

Their enlistment was comical, Bob said. “Because we were twins, and we thought we would try to stay together.”

After each being issued their dog tags, identifications worn around a soldier’s neck under their uniform, the pair pretended they had lost their tags. They were issued two more, Bob said.

“What they did not realize,” he said, “was that we were going to use those to stay together.”

The comedy came back on them. While planning to redeploy back to the U.S., the clerk thought their common last name of Butler was a mistake, and only Dick could return, leaving Bob deployed for an extra week.

“But my ship was faster than Dick’s,” Bob said. “I met him again in Massachusetts, and we both came home (to Maine) together.”

After their service, the brothers opened Butler Twins Floral Center in Farmingdale. Bob later was ordained as an Episcopal priest. 

Dick and his wife, Barbara, who died in 2004, had six daughters, 19 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. 

Bob and his wife, Josephine, who died in 2005, had a son and a daughter. Bob said his son served in Vietnam and died later of a stroke. His daughter, he said, gave him two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. 

“If Dick and I are wearing our World War II hats, people really show their appreciation,” Bob said. “I have to thank them for helping keep the world safe. We do not do it alone.” 

Other World War II members of Post 40, who were unable to make it to the meeting, include Jack Everett, Harold Holden and Keith Ruff of Winthrop, George Gormley of Topsham, Charles Jaques and Delbert Plaisted of Belgrade, and William Walters of Burlington, New Jersey.

The Americn Legion is a veterans’ support organization. The Sons of the American Legion, the American Legion Auxiliary, American Legion Riders, the VFW work out of Post 40.


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