Archive for November, 2011


How do you say goodbye to a friend?

He was standing at my desk when the phone rang at seven AM that morning. His doctor was on the other end and wanted to know how long would it take for him to get to the hospital. Richard told her about 15 minutes and then asked why. She said that she didn’t like what she saw on the x-rays or the blood work and wanted to run more test, and for him to leave now, and they would be waiting for him.


That was nearly six months ago and now Richard Grayson Odom, Sr. is gone, having died of cancer. During the short few months between diagnose and death, I watched my friend teach a class on how to die with dignity. The lessons he taught should be written down and published in a book, and that book be required reading for anyone dying of cancer. The book title should be, “There is No Whining in Dying.” Richard certainly did none of that. The book should have a chapter on the bucket list. Richard certainly did have one. Only it did not include any of the things that you would normal think would be on it. His bucket list was short. In fact it was just one thing. That was spending time with his family and friends and telling them how much he loved them and telling them all goodbye. I heard him say more times than I can count that he gets to do something very few people get to do, and that is, “I get to tell everyone bye.” How great is that?


The times that another long time friend and coworker, JB Hall and I would visit him, we would ask him how he was doing, and he would say, “I don’t have a thing to complain about.” The pain would be so bad that he could barely move, but he never complained. About the only thing he could eat was the peanut butter cookies that Judy, JB’s wife made for him. I can not think of anything other than those cookies that he asked for from us other that taking care of the guys at work. They were on his mind all the time. However, his love for his wife, Rose and his children was his greatest topic.


During his last days he could barely speak above a whisper, but he didn’t waste words. He used them to tell us how much he loved us. He died with dignity holding Rose’s hand.


Goodbye my friend, go with God Speed.


David Butler


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Gentleman Warrior.

For heroism while participating in aerial flight evidenced by voluntary action above and beyond the call of duty in the Republic of Vietnam, First Lieutenant Hudgins distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous action on13 November 1967, while serving as fire team leader of an armed helicopter during a rescue operation near Que Son,Republic of Vietnam.

Today is Veterans Day when we take a moment to salute all the men and women that served in the military of this great country of ours. I have known and served with a lot of men that I am honored to salute, but none any more than my friend James. Today James is a mild, if not meek, mannered gentleman serving as an assistant warden at Hamilton Correctional Institution in Jasper Florida. When first meeting him, his demeanor belies the warrior that received the Distinguished Flying Cross, for heroism mention above.

The citation continues in part: When his aircraft came under intense hostile fire, Lieutenant Hudgins immediately returned the fire and skillfully maneuvered his helicopter between the lift ships and the enemy positions. His aircraft received several hits, but he elected to continue with the flight. His action contributed greatly to the successful recover of the downed aircraft and injured crewmembers. Lieutenant Hudgins display of personal bravery is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

James’ helicopter along with four more were shot down during that heavy contested battle. This hero of the First Cavalry Division was shot down several other times while flying the Huey Gunship and was decorated along with the DFC, the Silver Star and 30 plus Air Metals, among others. In writing James up for the Silver Star, his platoon Leader submitted the following after action report:

Statement of Herbert L. Lawton

On16 October 1967, Lt. James Hudgins distinguished himself in support of the Company C., 227th AHB Ready Reaction Force.

The flight-supporting 2nd Bn, 12th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) – was operating approximately 25 nautical miles northwest of Chu Lai RVN.

The flight had been conducting a troop move when I received the information that the 2/12 Command and Control ship had been downed by enemy fire and that both pilots were wounded.  While the troops were loading to be transported to the site of the downed aircraft, I notified Lt. Hudgins of the mission.  He in turn informed me that his wingman was taking on fuel and could not accompany us on the mission.  However, recognizing the gravity of the situation and the necessity for haste, Lt. Hudgins elected to disregard basic gunship tactics and accompany the flight alone.  He did this with the knowledge that he would have no cover for himself on his firing runs. 

Enroute to the LZ, I learned that the aircraft on the ground had received hits from both .50 and .30 cal automatic weapons and that the LZ was red.  Informed of this Lt. Hudgins, with complete disregard for his own safety, insisted that he would accomplish the mission without support of his wingman.

The site of the downed aircraft was a large rice paddy, the ship being located in the center.  The ceiling was approximately 500′ absolute with visibility periodically impaired by mist and rain showers.  Having no contact with the downed aircraft, and unable to determine the direction of fire, I elected to land to the west, into the wind.  As soon as the flight of five touched down on the LZ, we began receiving automatic weapons fire from the south and north.  Rounds were observed hitting around the downed aircraft and between the aircraft of the flight.  Through muzzle flashes and sound, numerous automatic weapons were spotted in the tree lines on both sides of the flight.  Because he was alone, Lt. Hudgins was forced to repeatedly over fly automatic weapons positions in order to lay suppressive fire on all fire reported.  With cool professionalism, Lt. Hudgins skillfully maneuvered his lone gunship to effectively cover the most area in the shortest amount of time.  Because of a delay in loading the wounded personnel, Lt. Hudgins ship expended all ammunition except for the pilots personal weapons before the flight departed the LZ.  Realizing the psychological effects of the gunships on the enemy, Lt. Hudgins made repeated runs while his copilot fired (his M29 grenade launcher) from the cockpit.

Later in the day, Lt. Hudgins, accompanied by his wingman, volunteered to escort the aircraft recovery ship into the LZ although other escort gunships were standing by for the mission.  The LZ was still receiving fire and Lt. Hudgins again expended all ammunition on this lift and the subsequent extraction of the security forces.

Although the entire flight was subjected to constant enemy fire on both lifts, the effectiveness of Lt. Hudgins support was evidenced by the fact that with the exception of Lt. Hudgins ship, not one of the flight received any hits.  Three ships in the immediate vicinity did receive hits while the gunships were absent.

Lt. Hudgins professional skill, cool judgment, and complete disregard for personal safety in the pursuit of his mission reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

Herbert L. Lawton
1/Lt    Armor
Platoon Leader

So, I salute my friend and all my fellow veterans today and everyday.

David Butler

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It ain’t about us!

Craig was in rare form Tuesday night. Then again, for Craig that really never is rare. He and his brothers had the large crowd pumped up with, ‘Life is Like a Mountain Railway.’ A song they have sang hundreds of times, but somehow different on this night. All I can do any more is just marvel at this monthly phenomenal event. It was the 2nd Tuesday Men Steak Night again at the Burnett Barn, and God showed up. Also, it was the first year anniversary of the event, which few of us even realized until Timmy told us. What started as an attempt to minister to men outside of the church has gone from the 26 men there at the first night to bussing them in. It’s now heard on the lips of men across North Florida. ‘Blessed Savior there to guide us, till we reach that blissful shore,’ rang true this night as the men joined in. And if that was not enough,Wayne got up and sang ‘How Great is our God,’ and brought the barn down. It can not get any better than this. But it did!

My friend Pat reminded us that “It ain’t about us.” No, it’s all about the one that walked up that small lonely hill nearly 2000 years ago and said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” And he could not have picked a more appropriate song for we men than, ’Thanks to Calvary.’ I never tire of hearing, ‘Thanks to Calvary I’m not the man I used to be,’ as it is my testimony. Then comes John, and puts us in a humble worshipful spirit when he sang, ‘You are welcome here Holy Spirit.’ We were ready when Tim came up and told us that he was not the man he used to be, thanks to Calvary. It was no great earth shattering hell fire and brimstone sermon, from a world class preacher, but rather just a simple man with a simple testimony, and the story of every man there.

I’ve said before that I can’t explain it, that it must be a God thing. What can possibly draw over a hundred men from all over North Florida out on a week night to a compost barn? As much as men love hunting or football, that would not have drawn a crowd like this month after month. It seems like that for years we have been fishing with the wrong bait and now finally found what works. The un-churched men that show up each time are proof of that. I have gone from wondering if it will last to how many men will the barn hold. I just sat there and looked at Ray, and we just shake our heads in disbelief.

‘How great is our God, sing with me

How great is our God, and all will see

How great, how great is our God.’

I do love it so!

David Butler

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The bar pit was about a hundred yards long, and I had backed the motorcycle into the woods as far as I could go on the other side of the road from the pit. I looked both ways down the road to make sure no one was coming and took off. I cross the road and down that side of the pit, shifted gears as I hit the flat ground. Half way across the pit I shifted again and was really moving. A grin came to my face as I went up the far slope and started to fly.

That bike has seen better days. I bought it in Texas when BJ and I were station at Ft. Hood. I rode it to work most days, and wrecked it while there on two occasions and my friend Randy and his wife Karen once. When I left the Army, I brought it home and gave it to our cousin Ronnie, who rode it to school. The bike was parked under the shelter with all the farm implements after Ronnie finished school and went into the Army. It stayed there for several years.

One day while messing around the shelter I had to move the bike to get to something and got to thinking that I might get it to crank. After replacing the old gasoline and cleaning the spark plugs, I finally cranked the engine. I pump up the tires and took it for a spin around the farm. While in Texas, Randy and I did a little jumping with our bikes and I remembered how much fun that was, so I headed down to the bar pit. I would ride up the slopes on the side of the pit and fly for a little ways. As I got more comfortable with it, I would start further back to get more speed and fly further. Finally to get as much speed as possible, I backed all the way out of the pit and into the woods across the road. I had the bike flat out when I went up the far slope.  I pull back on the handlebars and really flew further than anytime before, so far that I made it to a pine tree sapling that I had not even come close to before. Thinking that this was going to hurt, I instinctively turn the handlebars to miss the 10 foot tree. The bike and I hit that tree and I continued on for about 30 feet and landed very hard.

All the air was knocked out of my lungs and I was too stunned to move. As I lay there all I could think about was no one knew where I was, and neither me nor the bike could be seen from the road. I finally was able to breathe ok and got to my feet, and was thankful nothing was broken. Except the bike that is. It was beyond riding again, and I let it lay there for several days. I don’t remember what became of it later, but I want to think I gave it to a junk man to haul away.

What was that line in Forest Gump? “Stupid is as stupid does.”


David Butler

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Grandfather Mountain

The metal hand rail on the Mile High Swinging Bridge was iced over, and I was afraid to grab it to hold on, thinking my bare hand would stick to it. The 50 plus mile a hour wind and the 5 degree wind chill factor should have given cause to not traverse the bridge in the first place. However, I had to cross, because my brother Irv was behind me. So, with the bridge swaying in the powerful wind and with my hands in my lightweight Floridawind breaker, I crossed over the 228 foot bridge. With nothing but a tee shirt under the wind breaker, this Florida Boy was cold. My face, hands and ears froze within minutes. There was a park staff person on the other side to answer questions and keep anyone from going further out on the ledge due to the ice. I guess it was a good thing he was there, or Irv and I might have tried it. It would have taken an ‘I double dog dare you,’ but I would have gone. Not that I have great ability at such, but rather a lack of something.


BJ and Carol waited for us in the souvenir shop, and after returning and telling them how easy it was, Carol decided she wanted to try. Irv looked at me with those, ‘I triple dog dare you,’ eyes, and off we went. BJ, not lacking that ‘something,’ chose to wait us out. Once we were at the foot of the bridge, Carol could not open her eyes for the powerful wind and chill factor, and decided not to cross. Irv and I breathed a sigh of relief. 


GrandfatherMountainis one of those wonderful places you need to visit when leaf looking in the beautiful Smokey Mountains. And our having left the cabin in mild weather did not expect it to be snowing up on the mountain. For this Florida Boy that was a treat. Irv however, who was working in Golden Colorado that past week, left there with lots of snow on the ground, so it was no big deal. This trip was as good as any before. Don’s beautiful log cabin where we stayed was in a perfect setting. Our kin the Metcalf’s prepared a banquet feast for us at Butch and Martha’s house on Sunday. As usual, Diana made one of her famous banana puddings, my my.


Alas, its back to retired life for BJ and Carol, and for Irv, its back to work in Golden, and me back in prison, (to work that is). Life is good and it doesn’t get any better than this.


David Butler


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