Platoon buddies of the first Kansas soldier killed in action in the Iraq war gathered Monday at his grave to toast their friend on the 10th anniversary of his death.
“To Jake,” they said, hosting bottles of Army Sgt. Jacob Lee Butler’s favorite beer as chilly winds whipped the Wellsville Cemetery.
Raised in Merriam and Wellsville, Butler, 24, was killed April 1, 2003, when his convoy came under fire in As Samawah, Iraq. He had been assigned to the Headquarters Co., 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment out of Fort Riley, Kan.
About a dozen members of his platoon traveled from as far as New Hampshire, California and Maine to spend the weekend at the home of Butler's brother James, about 30 miles from the cemetery. They reminisced, joked, watched college basketball on TV and downed some Bud Lights.
“A lot more people wanted to be here, but sometimes life just gets in the way,” said Brandon Scanlon of Sacramento, Calif.
Scanlon recalled the assault of rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire on the Humvee carrying Butler. “He was in the passenger seat, and I was driving,” said Scanlon, who was not badly hurt. “I was the last one to talk to him.”
The medic on the scene, Jeremy Hale of Columbia, S.C., said Monday: “It could’ve happened to any one of us standing here. Had it been someone else, I’m sure Jake would be doing the same thing we’re doing now.”
The veterans arrived at Butler’s grave in a procession of 14 vehicles, accompanied by Butler’s parents, Jim and Cindy Butler, his grandparents, brothers and other relatives.
Fulfilling a promise made to his son before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Jim Butler traveled to Iraq after Jake’s death. Jim Butler recently finished writing a book, “Beyond Honor: A Promise Kept,” which is dedicated to his son andavailable online
“What you guys have given to our family and to the country … this family will never forget,” Jim Butler told the men of the platoon, most of whom are in their mid-30s.
The graveside remembrance concluded with a tearful prayer and balloons set aloft.