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Chaplain Herbert Francis Butterbach

Herbert Francis Butterbach was the second Catholic chaplain of the 384th Bomb Group. Before he replaced Father Billy Method, Butterbach served with the 92nd Bomb Group, “Fames Favoured Few.” A wartime photo of Herbert Butterbach cannot be found in the records of the 92nd or 384th Bomb Group, but we would like to add one to our records if anyone has one to share.

Herbert Butterbach was born April 27, 1910 in the West End neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Marcus “Mark” George Butterbach and Josephine Mary Steedle Butterbach. In early census records, Herbert Butterbach’s middle initial was noted as “G”, like his father’s, so perhaps when he entered the priesthood, he took Francis as his middle name at that time.

His early education included St. Martin’s School and SS Peter and Paul’s School in East Liberty. He studied for the priesthood at St. Fidelis’ Seminary, Herman, and St. Vincent’s Latrobe.

Herbert Butterbach was ordained into the priesthood at the age of twenty-four in 1934. His uncle, Rev. O.P. (Otto) Butterbach, was the pastor of St. Anthony’s Church in Weiner, Arkansas and may have influenced his nephew’s interest in joining the clergy.

Newspaper articles from the late 1930’s and early 1940’s map out Herbert Butterbach’s career as a priest.

  • June 1934. Herbert Butterbach was ordained at St. Vincent’s on June 17, 1934 and for the next year was in charge of St. Mary’s Church on 57th Street in Pittsburgh and the Sacred Heart Church in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.  (Source:  August 31, 1945 issue of The Guardian, see below).
  • August 1935 to December 1938. Herbert Butterbach served as a C.C.C. chaplain at various camps in Pennsylvania from August 16, 1935 to December 15, 1938. C.C.C. stood for Civilian Conservation Corps and Wikipedia explains that C.C.C. was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families as part of the New Deal. (Source:  August 31, 1945 issue of The Guardian, see below).
  • November 1937. The November 3, 1937 Gazette Bulletin of Williamsport, Pennsylvania reported that Lt. Herbert Butterbach “assumed duties in this district as chaplain.”
  • January 1938. In January of 1938, the Daily News Standard and the Uniontown Morning Herald of Uniontown, Pennsylvania described Herbert Butterbach in articles as “a chaplain of the C.C.C. camps (who) has traveled extensively through the northern part of the United States” and “the chief Catholic chaplain of the C.C.C. camps of the northern district of Pennsylvania.”
  • June 1939. The New Castle News newspaper of New Castle, Pennsylvania places Herbert Butterbach in New Castle on June 6, 1939, perhaps still at the St. Vitus Church.
  • November 1939. Herbert Butterbach again entered the service as a C.C.C. chaplain on November 3, 1939. (Source:  August 31, 1945 issue of The Guardian, see below).
  • June 1940. Herbert Butterbach transferred to Army Chaplain on June 28, 1940. (Source:  August 31, 1945 issue of The Guardian, see below).
  • July 1940. On July 6, 1940, Butterbach is mentioned in the New Castle News as being “of Idaho.”
  • December 1940 – May 1941. The December 22, 1940 and May 10, 1941 Detroit Free Press places Captain Herbert Butterbach at Selfridge Field in Michigan.
  • November 1941. On November 18, 1941, the New Castle News reported:

Former Assistant Pastor Stationed at Boise, Idaho

Word has been received here that Captain Herbert Butterbach, former assistant pastor of St. Vitus Church, stationed at Selfridge Field, Detroit, Mich., has been transferred to Boise, Idaho.

Captain Butterbach is now stationed with the 42nd Medium Bomber Group, Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho.

Previous to his appointment at Selfridge Field, Captain Butterbach was a chaplain for the C.C.C. camps at Boise, Idaho.

  • January 1942. On January 14, 1942, a bomber from Gowen Field crashed thirteen miles southeast of Boise, Idaho, claiming nine lives. The Salt Lake Tribune reported a few days later that services for the victims were conducted by Chaplain F. Butterbach of Gowen Field. The article also reported a related death, that of the father of one of the pilots, Elmer Munn, Jr. His father’s, Elmer Munn Sr.’s, death was attributed to shock caused by news of the death of his son, his only child.
  • February 1943. The Drew Field Echoes was a publication at Drew Field in Tampa, Florida. It had a column called “The Chaplains Speak.” In the February 26, 1943 issue, it suggested…

There is a man you ought to get acquainted with here at Drew Field. He is the chaplain – one officer whom you can see without having to get permission. He is here to help you. He is here to listen to your troubles. He is here to go to bat for you if you need him. He is in the Army to be your friend, your advisor, your pastor. He would like to see you, not only in his office during the week but also in the Chapel services on Sunday. You need him, but he also needs your help if he is to be a good chaplain.

Where can you see him? There are chaplains in all five Chapels, and there are chaplains of all faiths here at Drew. There is a chaplain on duty in the Chapels until 9 o’clock every evening. Let me introduce you to our Chaplains.

There were two Catholic chaplains listed and Butterbach was listed first in Chapel No. 2. The list continued with the names of twelve Protestant chaplains, one Jewish chaplain, and one Christian Science Wartime Minister.

  • Spring 1943. From Herbert Butterbach’s obituary in the August 31, 1945 issue of The Guardian, the official organ of the diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, I calculate that Herbert Butterbach began his overseas service with the Army Air Forces around the Spring of 1943, serving for about two years with the 8th Air Force in England. (Source:  August 31, 1945 issue of The Guardian, see below). The first record of his service with the 8th Air Force that I can find is with the 92nd Bomb Group.
  • March 1944. On March 16, 1944, the Pittsburg Catholic publication pictured Butterbach with the caption “Major Herbert Butterbach, St. Martin’s, West End.” The photo gallery was titled “Priests from the Diocese Who Are Serving the Nation as Chaplains with the Armed Forces.”

Major Herbert Francis Butterbach

  • August 1944. Herbert Butterbach was granted six days leave of absence from the 92nd Bomb Group on August 27, 1944.
  • September 1944. Herbert Butterbach was granted twelve days leave of absence from the 92nd Bomb Group this month, September 10 – 15 and September 24 – 29, 1944.
  • October 1944. Herbert Butterbach transferred from the 92nd Bomb Group to the 384th Bomb Group in early October 1944. Chaplain Billy Method of the 384th Bomb Group replaced him at that time.
  • January – April 1945. Herbert Butterbach’s sparse record with the 384th Bomb Group shows only that during his service there he was detailed for one day of temporary duty to London on January 10, 1945 for chaplain activities and was granted a five-day leave of absence effective April 23, 1945.
  • June 1945. Herbert Butterbach was transferred to the 398th Bomb Group at Nuthampstead, Station 131 and attached or assigned to the HQ & Base Service Squadron, 426th ASG for shipment to the USA. On June 29, 1945, Herbert F. Butterbach returned to the US after the war, arriving in New York City aboard the Queen Elizabeth.

Herbert Butterbach died of a heart attack on August 16, 1945 at Drew Field in Tampa, Florida.  He had been stateside and stationed at Drew Field only about six weeks. He was only thirty-five years old at the time of his death. He is buried in St. Martin Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Herbert Francis Butterbach’s obituary from the August 31, 1945 issue of The Guardian, the official organ of the diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas:

Pittsburgh – Preceded by the chanting of the Office of the Dead, Solemn Requiem Mass was offered Wednesday morning, August 22, in St. Martin’s Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the Rev. Herbert F. Butterbach, nephew of the Rev. O.P. Butterbach, pastor of St. Anthony’s Church, Weiner, Arkansas.

Father Herbert Butterbach, a major in the chaplain corps, U.S. Army, was stricken with a heart attack at Drew Field, Tampa, Florida, where he had been stationed for the past six weeks after serving nearly two years in England with the Eighth Air Force. Most of his priestly life, since he was ordained in 1934, had been spent as a chaplain, first with the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C. Camps) and then with the Army Air Forces.

Father Otto Butterbach was celebrant of his nephew’s Funeral Mass…

Burial was in St. Martin’s Cemetery, Elliott, with a military escort present.

Born in the West End on April 27, 1910, the only child of his parents (Mark G. and Josephine Steedle Butterbach), Father Butterbach attended St. Martin’s School and SS Peter and Paul’s School, East Liberty, and made his studies for the priesthood at St. Fidelis’ Seminary, Herman, and St. Vincent’s Latrobe. He was ordained at St. Vincent’s on June 17, 1934, by Bishop (Hugh C.) Boyle, and for the ensuing year was in charge, pro tem, of St. Mary’s Church, 57th St., and Sacred Heart Church, McKeesport.

From Aug. 16, 1935, to Dec. 15, 1938, he served as a CCC chaplain at various camps in Pennsylvania, and for the next year was assistant at St. Vitus’ Church, New Castle. On Nov. 3, 1939, he again entered the service as CCC chaplain, transferring to Army Chaplain on June 28, 1940.

To read the original article in The Guardian, click here.

Thank you to Candy Kyler Brown and Group Historian Rob Hutchings with the 92nd Bomb Group for information on the transfers of Billy Method and Herbert Butterbach.

Thank you, also, to Keith Ellefson, Combat Data Specialist and Researcher with the 384th Bomb Group for his assistance with this article.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

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