Hello friends. Today I want to tell you about my Uncle Butch. As we honor our war veterans here in beautiful, sunny Thomson, Illinois, next Saturday at the Melon Days Fall Festival, Uncle Butch is on my mind and in my heart.
My first memories of Uncle Butch were as he came home from Vietnam. I was eleven years old, and Butch looked so much like a soldier all lean and mean, stepping out of a government vehicle driven by another soldier in charge of getting him away from the war and back to his family up on Paint Rock road where he grew up. I was almost scared to go up to him, with his Marine hair and his loud baritone voice. Within minutes he was calling me Bobby and I was hanging on every word he spoke. That bond only grew stronger over the years. Years later, I asked my uncle if Vietnam changed him. He said “no,” but I’m sure that being in those jungles affected his life more than he wanted to admit.
The next memories of Butch were in Grandma Marie’s driveway, with him and Uncle Virgil playing music for us until the wee hours, old country ballads that still haunt my memories. From that moment I wanted to be a singer– I wanted to pick a guitar like him, and from then on music would be mixed with everything I did. Memories of Butch and Aunt Ellen singing old Johnny Cash songs together are still vivid, reminding me of what binds and ties our family together.
Uncle Butch went from the tragedies of war to a music career, playing in a band in and around Paris, Arkansas, playing rodeos in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Soon he got a weekly gig on the radio, and everyone knew him as “Cowboy Buddy,” the man with a golden voice and a personality that just wouldn’t quit. Everyone knew him, and I was so proud to be his nephew.
And as I drove to my mother’s house to give her the terrible news about her brother, I drew from his strength, and he was just over my shoulder as I told mom of his passing. And his songs ran through my mind over and over. Songs like “The Old Rugged Cross,” a song I last heard him sing to my Grandpa Aub as he lay in a casket awaiting the final trip to Paint Rock cemetery. Songs like “I Overlooked an Orchid While Searching For a Rose,” a song My Grandpa Vaughn sang to Grandma Marie when Butch was a child.
And I watched from the front row as hundreds of his friends said goodbye to him for the last time. And I cried silent tears as we carried him to the hearse and took the slow ride back to the cemetery up on Paint Rock Hill.
And I was so proud of Butch as the trumpet played and his fellow Marines folded his flag and presented it on bended knee to my cousin Jack, his son. I will never forget how slow the salute came to the Marine’s brim. I will never forget the words from Brother Carter’s mouth as he told of a man he knew very well.
Too many times we have made this trip. Too many times I have walked through those gates. I’m tired of watching my mother cry, and I hope not to ever see that again.
Still, through all the sadness that cemetery hill has brought upon my family, still it draws me to it like a magnet every time I get close, for this is my Grandma and Grandpa’s resting place, and it holds within its gates my heritage, my roots, my family.
Too late are my words to thank Butch for what he has done. He served our country with honor, and never once complained, never once blamed anyone for what he was put through as a Marine in Vietnam. He lived life to the fullest, and we all grew up wanting that energy he had, that musical talent, and that way he had with people. Through him we found that music is intertwined in everything we do, calming us in times of tragedy and lifting our spirits when we are feeling low. Through him we saw how to love with all our hearts. Because of him, we all have a bond that will only get stronger with the years.
Butch is in heaven now, but he will remain with us forever in our music. I would imagine he is at this time leaning against the pearly gates with a gold inlaid Martin guitar, playing another song for the angels as they ask him “Just one more song, please?”
So, as we celebrate, remember, and honor our veterans next Saturday, my Uncle Butch will be the first to thank, the first name on my lips.
See you in heaven, Uncle Butch– save me a seat!