Wendy and I attended the retirement of an Air Force Colonel last week. We were honored to be one of the 100-or-so guests. Col Steven Butler and his wife, Kathy, became friends with us 12 years ago when we both were new to the Monument area. Wendy and I had never been to a military retirement ceremony before. I’d like to share with you two impressive displays. You will appreciate these observations.
The first was all their children. Eight. Seven boys and one precious daughter at the end. Today, the oldest three are walking in their father’s footsteps, the oldest a graduated officer and the other two cadets at the Academy. At one point in the ceremony, the boys gave their father a knife (a very nice hunting knife) and Col Butler teared up on the spot.
The scene was pretty neat. All eight children went up on the platform to give him what was announced as a special gift. They told him to open it. The knife popped out of the wrapping, and you could see tears start to well up with Steve. The Colonel felt the need to explain to the 100 guests what the symbolism meant. He got about three or four words into it before his emotion overtook him. He looked at his eldest son, Zack, and just said one thing: “Help me out here, son.”
Then Zack – 25 years old, newly graduated and in his Air Force uniform – stepped forward and started to explain the family heritage of the knives. They are a tolken of manhood in their home, and that their dad would buy them a knife when he felt they were ready to enter into manhood. Then tough oldest-brother Zack got choked up, couldn’t continue, so turned to the next brother in his cadet uniform. “Josh, you finish up.”
The rest of the explanation didn’t need much time, so Josh wrapped it up and explained the significance of the knives. The boys wanted to express their appreciation back to their father, and the best tolken they could think up was a hunting knife. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.
The second beautiful display at the ceremony was the appreciation given to Kathy. The boys gave her a charm bracelet with a series of state stones, one for each of the 11 states they had lived in in their 27 years of service. Military wives sacrifice just as much – perhaps more? – for their country. Kathy shared that when Steve was a young officer and they had just a couple of children, he was directly told by a superior that he should choose between career and family. In other words, to have a future in the Air Force you’ll have to say no to children. “Steve was an awesome man who showed that was not true, and he chose family and career,” Kathy said to us all.
There were other impressive displays. A flag ceremony, marches, a wind ensemble, an honoring and personal speech by a Brigadier General, presentations of gifts from various generals and colonels Steve had worked with over the years. These displays were very impressive. But the love the Butler family displayed in front of their guests – their love for country, to God, and for one another – was the most impressive of all.