Nine months ago, as he was driving home after coming off duty at Londonderry Fire, Bo Butler was listening to his radio. What he heard was Joe Byron talk about a program he had founded called “Honor Flight New England”. Butler pulled over and wrote down the contact information and gave Bryon a call.
When he picked up the phone, Butler asked Byron what he could do to help. He informed Butler that he could go to the website and fill out an application to be a Guardian on a future trip but there was a large waiting list to be Guardians. When he got home, he filled out the application and received an email that Bryon was in receipt of Butler’s application. Nine months later, a package arrived in the mail accepting Butler as a Guardian. “I was so incredibly happy to receive the news,” Butler stated.
Butler’s family has a strong a strong tradition of supporting this country during a time of war. His grandfather was a member of the very First Construction Battalion known as the SeaBees during WWII. His unit island-hopped all throughout the Pacific Theater, fighting off the Japanese while building runways on the islands they landed on. He was on Iwo Jima and saw with his own eyes the flag that the Marines raised atop Mt. Suribachi.
After returning home from his service in Iraq, Bo said he wanted more than anything to “bring Papa down to DC and be with him when we laid his eyes on the WWII Memorial honoring the sacrifices made by so few, for so many.” Butler said, “Unfortunately, we never got to make that trip. He died last July at the age of 89, six months shy of his 90th birthday. His passing hit me hard. The man was my living hero and a member of the Greatest Generation ever known to man.”
Butler added, “He (his Papa) lived the American Dream that he and his comrades fought so hard to get. When I heard of this program, I knew I was meant to be part of it. I want to spend as much time as humanly possible around these men because one day soon, they will be gone. They are all heroes. Most of them have remained silent for all these years about their experiences. Silence is and always has been their coping mechanism. It’s been said that Honor Flight brings them closure. They suddenly will talk about their experiences which many times, their families never even knew about. After the trip is over the veterans will say that ‘Honor Flight was the best day of their lives’. I’m doing this to honor my grandfather’s memory and legacy. I’m doing this for the men who did everything for this nation and asked for nothing in return. I’m doing this because I wish I could do more for these men. I’m doing this so that when my WWII hero asks me…’Son, do you understand?’ I can say ‘Yes, I do.’ Because I do.”
Last Saturday, along with his Dad, Butler drove to the Bedford, MA V.A. for orientation and a chance to meet Bryon in person. Byron is a retired police officer dedicated to the mission of getting as many WWII Heroes as possible down to Washington, DC so they can see their memorial before they pass. The biggest enemy is time. WWII Heroes are dying at a rate of 1,000 a day. The WWII Memorial was not built until 60 years after the end of the war. The youngest veterans alive from the conflict are in their 80’s.
“The orientation was so emotional people were crying, I was crying, my Dad was crying. Can you imagine a world without the members of the Greatest Generation not in it? I certainly cannot,” said Butler. Only a few WWII heroes were able to make it and meet their Guardians. Unfortunately, Butler did not get to meet his veteran that day. He did however receive his name; Robert Greenleaf and he is 90 years old. Butler added, “I am so honored to be his Guardian and can’t wait to shake his hand, give him a hug and kiss, and tell him thank you. I will get to do this and more on Sunday.”
Butler has raised money from friends, family and his brothers at the fire house to make this day happen for Robert Greenleaf veteran. “Without their generous donations, this doesn’t happen!”
Butler and Greenleaf will leave early this Sunday morning from Logan Airport. Butler’s job is to assist Greenleaf with whatever he may need during the day. At their send off, the WWII Heroes will get paraded thru the airport, accompanied by a Pipes and Drums Band, the Mass State Police, uniformed military personnel, and the Veterans Motorcycle Group. They will return later in the day to a Hero’s welcome.
Butler shared one last story. “Two weeks ago, we (LFD) responded for an 85 year old man who had fallen. When we arrived on scene to treat the patient, we found out that he was really 95. I asked if he was a WWII vet and he proudly said yes. At which point, his daughter, whom he now lives with, said he was at Guadal Canal. Wouldn’t you know it, we were helping a hero. Another member from the Greatest Generation right here in Londonderry!”
“I asked his daughter if she or he has ever heard of Honor Flight and she said yes. I then told her that sometime during the following week, I would come over her house and bring with me an application for her Dad to fill out. A few days passed and as promised, I returned to the address with an Honor Flight application in my hand. I asked if her Dad was home from the hospital and she said yes. I sat down and explained to the WWII hero Honor Flight, the process and just about the trip itself. I saw an old man light right up. I explained to his daughter that he would need to fill out the application I brought and once done, to call me and I would come pick it up or do whatever would work for them. I have since submitted his application into HFNE and he is now on a waiting list for a future trip. God willing, he lives long enough to make it.”
“It has now become my mission to get the word out about Honor Flight. I keep a few Veteran Applications with me in the fire engine and ambulance in case I cross paths with another WWII hero while doing my job. “
If you would like more information on Honor Flight New England or to become a Guardian please check out their website.
Please be advised the website opens up with sound when you click the link.