“Johnny Boy” was five years old when he received this letter from his daddy — Lt. Col. John Augustus Butler, Sr. It was the latest of many communications his father had sent since departing for the Pacific. Each note was filled with encouragement, manly counsel, and fatherly love prepared from fields of battle by a man who would not allow a world war to interfere with his duties to instruct his son.
But this letter was different. It was the last communication Johnny Boy ever received from his “proud dad.”
Note the date — February 18, 1945, the eve of D-Day. On February 19, Lt. Col. John Butler would hit the black sands of Iwo Jima as commander of 1st Battalion, 27th Regiment, 5th Marine Division, leading over one thousand men into the fight for their lives against an entrenched Japanese enemy. Fourteen days later, the popular battalion commander and devoted father of three would lose his life in the performance of his duty, fighting on the frontlines.
It is now sixty years later, and Johnny Boy is a grandfather.
I first met John Butler, Jr. on the plane to Guam and was immediately taken by this sixty-five year old son’s irrepressible passion for his father. Within moments of making his acquaintance, he was unfolding documents and showing me precious letters of the man he loved.
He literally grabbed one member of my team, looked him in the eye, and asked, “Have you heard of my father? Do you know the things he did?” He pulled out an accordion file-folder, crammed full of dozens upon dozens of letters — letters exchanged between “Johnny Boy” and “Daddy”; love letters written between his father and mother; letters written to his mother by men who served under his father’s command.
And then there were pictures — scores of them — photos that catalogued his father’s life and testimony.
Great things happen when fathers love and disciple their sons. That is why, for sixty years, this son has loved the daddy who never came home. For sixty years, he has read and re-read his father’s instructions to him. For sixty years, he has remained devoted in his heart to the man whose wisdom and love, communicated through battlefield letters, has been a guiding light in his life.
He put it simply: “I feel like my father has always been here with me.”
At this point, the words of the Eternal Son came to our minds:
Then answered Jesus and said unto them, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth...’ (John 5:19-20)The Heroism of Fathers is the Legacy of the Sons
I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments. (Psalm 78:2-7)
For the sixtieth anniversary of their father’s death, John Butler, Jr. and younger brother Clinton (only four months old when his father was killed) decided to return to the island where their father was ushered into eternity. It was to be a pilgrimage of sonship to remember and give thanks for the man who in death left a legacy of love and devotion.
It gives a son confidence to know his father was a man of character. John, Jr. describes his father this way:
My father’s story is one of love, the love between him and my mother, love for and faith in God, a love for humanity and the men he led, and great pride in the Marine Corps he served. Those whom he led and those who knew him, speak of his exceptional character, genuine friendliness, and the superb leadership of his battalion in training and in combat.In the providence of God, several of the men traveling with us knew the devoted father of John, Jr. and Clinton. They had served along side of Lt. Col. John Butler during the war and were able to give first hand accounts to his sons.
Read the rest of this moving Memorial Day tribute and how generational honor preserves nations here or by order your copy of "The League of Grateful Sons" at www.visionforum.com