|Butch Ben Yok|
MILTON “BUTCH” BOTTGER ( BUTCH BEN YOK) - Radio Operator
3RD DECEMBER 1924 - 29 TH OCTOBER 2008
In Air Force and military circles in Israel, if you ask who may MILTON BOTTGER be, you will draw a blank. But if you mention the name BUTCH BEN YOK , aaaahh , that is a different story !
Butch grew up and went to school in Doornfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa, with all his Jewish pals, even going to cheder (Hebrew school) with them.
In 1947 , the word on the grape vine sent out a message for Jewish ex-service men and women to volunteer for at that time, non existent Israeli Air Force and armed forces.
When Butch heard that his Jewish pals were queueing up at the Zionist Federation offices, for application to join, there was no stopping him. With his experience in the South African Air Force during World War 2, as a radio operator , air gunner, serving in the North African and Italian campaigns, Butch had all the perfect credentials. His trepidations about being a Christian, were unfounded, and he was welcomed with open arms by Phil Zuckerman, at that time the recruiting officer.
After some months of preparation and snafus, Butch in a compliment of 19 others, emplaned from Johannesburg’s Palmietfontein air port in a Pan African Air Charter Dakota , landing five days later at Chiampino air port in Rome. From there, by hook and by crook, finally arriving at ZATEK in Czechoslovakia. In an out of the way secretive country side landing strip, waiting to be prepared and serviced , by the newcomers, were three B17, Flying Fortress bombers smuggled out of the USA.
Prior to taking off for Israel , Dov Judah and Smoky Simon decided that on the way there, each B17 would make bombing runs on targets in Egypt including Cairo. Butch in a crew which included Joe Leibowitz, were selected to bomb El Arish, in the Gaza strip. Joe, being knowledgable of the Herzlia air strip, was mandated to navigate. With much difficulty in the black of night, and with minutes fuel left in the tanks, and with the option of crash landing on the beach, despite the American skipper ranting and raving , Joe saved the day.
From there onwards, Butch was stationed at Ramat David Air Force base, attached to 103 squadron, flying C47 Dakotas , specializing in night time raids to targets, El Arish, Rafah, Gaza, Khan Younis and even Damascus. Joe Leibowitz recalls , at one of the briefings, a volunteer was called for to man an out of the way radio outpost in the Negev desert. Critical in our communication network. The first hand that went up , guess who, Butch. Despite the unwritten rule in any man’s army. ,DO NOT VOLUNTEER FOR ANYTHING !!! Not in Butch”s code of ethics.
Excuse the liberty ,Henry Katzew & Maurice Ostroff may I take the liberty of this extract from your book SOUTH AFRICA’S 800. “ Butch Bottger was an imp of Nature, who won back the warmth he gave out. He carried quip in his eye and wit on the tongue, embellishing the days with good humour and cheerfulness. A “ lark “ picture in a photographic album of 1948 shows a man with a curled up moustache , a tassel of a beard, and a head crowned with a turban.”
A friendship of years, starting in a Doornfontein childhood with Phil Kemp and Dennis Gochen , sons of neighbouring Jewish families, brought Butch in to our war of Liberation. They became the inseparable Three.
In response to prime minister BEN GURION’S call for Hebraisation of names, Butch Bottger from then on was re-named, and proudly bore the name of BUTCH BEN YOK. ( Butch the son of a Christian ).
The three airmen , were natural spirits of entertainment, and enjoyed free meals at their favorite restaurant, the GALI YAM in Tel Aviv. The proprietor recognizing crowd pleasers when he met them. Butch became the supreme favorite. He had not an enemy in the world. The man was lovable. He was among the few whose name , sixty years later , no volunteer had difficulty in recalling. This son of Christians, loved the Jewish people. Jewish history knows such as he , occasional men and women who have slipped into effortless identification with the people of history , gathered in by some kind of wordless , spiritual mystery.
Whilst at Ramat David, Butch was involved in everything to do with the welfare of the crews of the 69 th, Flying Fortress squadron, 103 squadron, the personnel on the base, the aircraft technicians , the kitchen & canteen. Organising committees to see that all the liquor and other supplies were more than adequately attended to. Also organizing for the lads, transport to Haifa, to families entertaining them on shabat and to the temple on iHigh Festivals.
Butch in his teens and twenties, excelled in soccer, cricket , squash, hockey, and especially boxing , gaining a title as a champion in the fly weight division. With this background and his love of sport sparked all these activities amongst the South Africans, Israelis, Americans, Canadians, English, Scandinavians, and other nationalities, with intense competition, with the most hilarious consequences, with the Americans, mixing up American football, rugby and soccer rules .
Butch and his late wife Beryl attended the 50 th Jubilee celebrations in Israel. For the sixtieth anniversary celebrations in Israel, he was invited to attend, all expenses paid, but due to ill health was not able to avail himself of that honour. On the sixtieth anniversary, one of Butch’s most cherished awards , the certificate inscribed , and issued by the Jewish Naional Fund Golden Book committee.
Over the last twenty years of his life, living in Warner Beach, South Coast, Natal, Butch dBUTCH LAID HIS LIFE ON THE LINE FOR THE JEWISH PEOPLE. Butch , on behalf of all those privileged to know you, I SALUTE YOU MY DEAR FRIEND.
Shalom, lehitraot, Zan Swartzberg. ( ex 69 th Sqdrn, RD AFB)