County#039;s last living WWII POW gets his day in the sun Saturday

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

As the sun rises Saturday it will mark the birthday of the Girl Scouts, the Post Office and the state of New Jersey.

However, it will also be a major landmark for one Lawrence County resident and those who have been touched by his life of service.

March 12, 2005, has been declared "Lonnie 'Pidy' Butler Day" in Ironton, in honor of the only living World War II prisoner of war from Lawrence County.

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Born in Pike County, Ky., Lonnie Butler moved to Lawrence County when he was just a toddler. It was at some point during his childhood in southern Ohio that he was given the nickname "Pidy," but neither he nor 88-year-old sister Dixie Davis can remember why.

No matter how he got the name, Pidy enlisted not long after receiving it, in the U.S. Army Division 28th Infantry in 1943, when he was just 17 years old.

He was captured a year later and rung in his 18th birthday as a prisoner of Stalag 4-B in Muhlenberg, Germany. He doesn't hesitate a moment when asked about the most difficult part of his time in captivity.

"The starvation, we about starved to death. I was down to 68 pounds at one point," Butler said.

Once a day, while in the prison, Butler was served a broth, so devoid of any flavor as to make it unrecognizable.

Even after his time as a POW, Butler returned to the fray once again in the Korean War. Years later, when the conflict in Vietnam flared up, he wasn't required to go, but his unrelenting patriotism would not allow him to rest on the sidelines and he volunteered to serve in his third war.

"I just wanted to go, I wanted to do my part, and if I had to do it over I'd do it again," Butler said.

It was because of the 79 year-old hero's courage and love of his country that Mayor John Elam said he wanted to do something to honor the former POW.

"We're proclaiming this day in his honor because this gentleman has served in three wars and had dedicated his life and was willing to sacrifice his life to serve his country," Elam said.

To help make Pidy's day even more memorable, a celebration for Butler will take place at 4 p.m. at the Ironton VFW Post 8850 Home. An event which friends, family and the public are welcome to attend.

It's appropriate, according to niece Sarah Horne, that these groups attend Lonnie's celebration, as all of them have been touched by his life; from those who loved him to those who simply enjoy the freedom he has helped to provide throughout his remarkable life.

"He has been such a good person, you would have to know him," Horne said, as tears began to slip from her eyes. "He never said a mean word to anybody. Also, this is a man who dearly loves his country."

Sadly, a man so who has sacrificed so much for others is now plagued with problems that no amount of heroism can set right. He is currently suffering from esophageal, stomach and colon cancer.

Amazingly, despite the terminal prognosis, Horne said that Butler has yet to ever complain. Lonnie 'Pidy' Butler is facing this obstacle the way he has lived his life: with an indomitable, inspiring courage.