I was an Outlaw.

My horse galloped across the yard as fast as I could run him trying to get away from Roy Rogers and the rest of the posse. The Lone Ranger came around the corner of the house trying to cut me off, but I slapped my behind and jerked my reins to the left and headed towards the corn crib.

It was summer and Dad had a week’s vacation from Coats and Clarks in Albany, so we headed to Granddaddy Butler’s farm in Moultrie Georgia. While he helped pick tobacco and mom helped in the kitchen, my siblings and I played. For me it was cowboys and Indians or outlaws.  I have a lot of cousins in that part of the country, and back then when we came down with me being the city slicker I had to play the bad guy. It was either that or an Indian. I wasn’t much with a bow and arrow but I deadly with my two finger pistols. I can’t remember ever being one of the good guys. However, I can remember how raw it was between my legs from riding my tobacco stick horse all day trying to evade that posse of real country boys.

In my mind’s eye I can still see those stick horses with the cotton string tied to one end for reins tied up to the hitching rail. Which in this case just happen to granny’s back porch. I can also still see that clean swept yard in the mornings having been swept with a gallberry broom the evening before. There wasn’t a blade of grass within a 100 feet of the house either. Granddaddy told me that was done so he could see what critters came up to the house during the night. He had plenty to see though when they came from the field in the evening with the tracks of our horses left between our little footprints.

Granddaddy was a sharecropper for a widow lady and he and grandma lived in an old styled farm house on the back side of the old Spence Army Airfield. The kitchen was separate from the house joined by a long porch. I can remember that screen door going into the kitchen and the wood stove. There was a pie safe cabinet from which she would get cold biscuits and give us one. I would poke a hole in it where she would pour cane syrup. I can even see the old butter churn.

It doesn’t take much these days for my mind to drift back to days of my youth. I guess that comes with age. When we have the Butler Reunion each year in June and I see my cousins, I think of those days. I can still hear and see in my mind the Yellow AT-6 Trainers taking off the airfield runway. They are long gone now as is my granddaddy’s old farm house.  Even the old tobacco sticks are a rare find today. So I guess this is my way of keeping them alive.


Coming Home

If you are a veteran that’s been to war I’m sure you remember what it was like when you came home. We went to town the day the 269th Engr Bn from Live Oak came home from Iraq. Thousands of people had turned out to welcome them home. Flags were waving and people were cheering. Our church was there because of Gerald Creech and his nephew Robbie and others we knew. Gerald is a fellow deacon, and a two time war veteran, having served in Desert Strom with his son Brian. The bus let them off in town so they could march to the Armory. Watching them march down the streets of Live Oak brought tears to the eyes and lumps to the throat. Finally veterans coming home were shown respect for their service. They stood tall and we stood proud.
I have made it a point to thank servicemen for their service when I have the chance. Recently I saw one paying for his dinner at the cash register, and I went up and asked him if he would he allow me to honor his service by paying for his meal. Thankfully he did and I did. You may think that is trite, but read on and you will see why.
As a two tour Vietnam Veteran my homecoming was much different. Last year I wrote and posted a tribute to Veterans on my blog for Veterans Day 2013. While writing it, all the memories of that time came flooding back. Even now a year later while selecting and editing my stories for a book I’m writing, that one evokes emotions long kept pocketed. While I think I can understand the anger at the war back then, I will never understand the dislike and disrespect for the warriors that came home. I never will forget leaving Vietnam after my first tour. Actually, I was sent home about two weeks early. My brother Kenny had a brain tumor and was fixing to have surgery. I was getting ready to go on my last flight before my regular return date. The company clerk came out to the flight line and handed me the following message:
To: Commanding Office Date: 7 June 1968
1st MI Det.
APO SF 96240
From: American Red Cross Subject: Emergency Message
Office of the Field Director
APO San Francisco 96240
The following message received this date verifying that servicemans brother is to have an operation. QUOTE: Msg HARE 818 from Chapt Albany, Ga. RE Sp5 Alvin D. Butler RA 14883774 D Det 1st MI Bn (ARS) APO SF 96249. Dr. Lowery Neuro-surgeon states ten year old brother Kenny to undergo surgery Monday 10 June. Brain Tumor. Dr recommends svemn presences. Advise soonest.

I still have that message and copied it exactly as it was written. You can only imagine the emotions going on inside of me. Happy to be going home to my family, but sad to leave men that had become closer than brothers, all the while holding a message that my baby brother is suffering from a brain tumor bad enough to get me sent home for the surgery. My company commander put me on a flight to Saigon, where the Air Force put me on a C-124 Jet that was filled with caskets. I rode home in the cargo section of that plane next to a lot of brave men that had died serving their country. Except when I was invited to visit the cockpit my only view was those caskets. As much as I love words, I have none to express how that felt.
After a stop in Japan, we landed at Travis Air Force Base at Oakland, California. I was bused over to the section where incoming personnel from Vietnam were processed. There I was given a new uniform, and a partial pay. After I put on the uniform with all my metals and my shiny silver wings, I just stood there in front of the mirror, proud. Proud to be going home, proud to have served my country, proud to have survived.
About a dozen of us were put on a bus to the San Francisco Airport. As we were pulling into the terminal, our driver, (who apparently made several runs a day), told us to stay away from the bunch of people in front of the terminal with signs. There were a few cops standing near them, keeping them away from the entrance. As we got off the bus they started yelling at us. I couldn’t really understand what they were saying, but their signs said it all. That was a wakeup call. From that point on, and for many years, it was “All dogs and soldiers keep off the grass.” From the ticket agent to the people running the concession stands, and even the people on the plane to Atlanta, it was if I smelled bad or something. I saw only a few friendly faces during that time. No welcome home greetings anywhere. I simply could not understand. Had we lost the war and I had not been told?
However, all that was forgotten when I got off the plane in Atlanta and saw my beautiful smiling wife and my grinning dad waiting at the gate. They had driven up from Albany to meet me. God was in His Heaven and all was right in my world again. It was on to Albany to see my darling daughter, Missy, my mom and other brothers and sisters. I went to the hospital and saw Kenny. The doctor said that surgery was too dangerous for him, so it was canceled. He lived just over a year after that. That was one homecoming that will stay with me, till I see him again on that great getting up morning. And that’s all I got to say about that.

Dempsey laying flat on the ground, pushed himself along the fresh cut hay trying to rid himself of that awful smell that covered his chest. The fourth lesson he learned in such a very short time that night was, that sliding along the fresh cut hay will not remove the smell of fresh skunk perfume.

You know, country living has great benefits for young people. Even more so, if it is deep in the heart of agriculture country. The one draw back, (not that it is one), is that the young people, unlike their city friends, have to invent most of their own games. So, if three friends like Dempsey, Keith and Richard happen to be out one night walking across a damp hay field and see fresh tracks leading away from them, then the game is to follow it. What more fun is there to three full blooded country boys, than to follow fresh animal tracks. And what the more fun, if the trail leads to a skunk. A large skunk that was just minding his own business, but now surrounded by three grinning country boys. Now, “Boys will be boys,” does not apply here. I was not raised in the country, but even I know that you don’t mess with a skunk. People raised in the suburbs have been known to run over one on the highway and remember that smell clearly. That smell strongly says to “leave me be!”

So, lesson number one is to “Leave him alone.” However, that lesson was ignored. Lesson number two, don’t listen to Dempsey when he says, “If you pick him up by the tail he can’t spray you, because he can’t brace his hind legs on anything.” However, Dempsey, believing his own wisdom, picked him up. Lesson number three, Yes, he can spray you by just pressing his hind leg together. And he did! A big beautiful perfume cloud surrounded the three friends, with Dempsey getting the worst of it. Now this should have been the end of the game. I mean the smell is the worst of any smell anywhere at any time. It is so bad that you really can’t describe it. Or, at least I can’t. So, this should have sent them packing to find relief from the smell. But alas, not these country boys. Dempsey, with even more wisdom beyond his years announced that, “He can only spray once, until his body makes more perfume,” and he picks up the skunk by the tail again, and no, this skunk didn’t spray him again. But who other than country boys would even try it after the first time. I do believe that I would not have believed Dempsey this time.

So, there you have it folks. Three country boys and their newly invented game of, “I bet you can’t spray me.” Only I think this particular game never caught on, and was played only this one time. That takes us to the last lesson number four, mentioned before, that sliding along the fresh cut hay on your belly will not remove the smell of fresh skunk perfume. In fact it was several days before the smell started to dissipate. You gotta love country boys and this community.

I knew something was wrong the moment I walked into the poultry house. There was an unusual amount of dead laying about. The chickens were laying down with their heads stuck way out and just hassling and not moving around much, other than to get water. My brother-in-law, Lavon and I picked up about 300 dead out of the 6 poultry houses with grown birds that Saturday Morning. Little did we know that this was just the beginning of a disaster.

It was the first weekend in August in the year of 1980. The weather was the hottest I’ve seen since moving here. The temperature in the middle of the day was 108° Fahrenheit, and the humidity was 100%. There was no wind to speak of and no rain or relief in sight. This was the days before we had water misters and only three 4 foot fans in the each house. Our chickens were a week away from loading out and they were heavy. The last thing we needed now was to lose any, now that we carried them this far.

We worked in the houses until noon, picking up the dead and trying to provide as much ventilation as possible by letting the curtains down to their lowest point. After lunch we were back in the houses picking up more dead. I then started spraying the ceiling up and down the houses with water one at a time to try to cool down the birds. Nothing helped. By dark we had most of the dead out and called it a day, praying that tomorrow would be a cooler day.                                                                                

I was back in the houses at day light and I was shocked at what I was seeing. Dead chickens lay everywhere. My heart just sunk. We had worked so hard to get them to the right weight for market and to see it all die right before my eyes was almost more than I could take. But I started to work trying to save as many as I could and remove the dead. The first thing I did was take the food away from them, because that just added heat to their bodies. Lavon came in and we started picking up the dead. Later my father-in-law, whom we called Uncle, came by and I told him we would not be at church that morning. We were members of First Baptist Church in Lee Florida where he was the pastor. He went and called Cherry Farms to see if they would move up the load out to that night. But that was not to be. There was nothing left to do but pick up dead. My wife BJ, and daughters, Missy and Terri, were right there with us.

At noon that Sunday I drove out to Corinth Baptist Church, about a mile away, and waited outside for the people to come out. I want to see if my friend Richard Williams could come and help remove the dead. Ray Burnett overheard us talking and said he and his boys would come too. That started a chain reaction as others said they would help. What happen then is something that I will never forget as long as I live. From this small country church, 30+ people showed up at our poultry farm and started picking up dead chickens. Even their pastor Jimmy Deas and his wife Sherry were there working. I had men on our front end loader plus Ray’s, digging pits to bury them in and a half a dozen pick ups trucks backed up to the doors being load. Men, women and children walking up and down in every house picking up the thousands of dead. Many of which had started to decompose and when you grabbed their feet, the skin would come off, (someone said their socks came off), but no one held back. Some used rubber gloves, paper towels or just bare hands, and the dead were removed and buried.

Before this day I really like this community. After this day I was in love with this community. In the time of our need, the community showed up in mass. The only way I can explain it is the fact that we all live close to one another’s trials, because life is never really easy for any of us. In spite of our differences at times or even the apparent aloofness in some, at times like this we were one.

All in all we lost about 25,000 chickens, the equivalent of 1 and 2/3 houses. A real disaster at the time. I had never seen anything like it, but it happen again years later, only this time it happen to my friend Ray and his family. It wasn’t as bad as ours but a disaster still. Again the community turned out to help, as they have many times during floods, tornadoes, you name it and they will come. Yep, I love this community. A year later my whole family joined the church that was the center of it all.

The Ugliness Therein.


There were two shopping carts in the aisle at the front of the store, one inside the other as they are designed to do to save space in the cart corral. In a hurry and thinking that they being out front was handy, (as Lavon would say), I tried to separate them by just pulling them apart. I pulled and pulled, even to the point of bending over and grabbing a handle in each hand pulling hard using all my strength. No luck. Finally I realized that the little child seat belt latch was hung up, holding the carts together, and was able to release the two carts. Grabbing the first one I took off, trying to hurry as I always do when shopping Planet Wal-Mart, which is a feat in itself due to the sear number of “Walmartens” in the aisles.

Shopping carts were originally designed for shopping. However, I’m sure the inventor never foresaw what his creature could do to the human psyche, at least to someone like me, unless of course he was sadistic. Take the wheels for instance. They’re made of hard rubber, but for some mysterious reason the one I always select is flat on one side. What’s up with that?

Now, while some may love the “Clanky,clanky noise that a “Flat on one side wheel” makes, but to me, it’s not only unnerving, but it frightens children too. Today I’ve not only selected a cart with a flat hard rubber wheel, but the right front wheel spins around and around while rolling, plus the cart pulls to the left. I look back at the entrance, thinking I would try to swap the cart for a better one, but the 40 or 50 Martens jousting for carts terrified me more that the cart I had. I truly wish I had BJ’s courage when I come to this place, but alas, it’s not to be.

So while clanking down the aisles, bumping into the carts on the left side, getting hard looks from mothers with crying kids, I come to two ladies, (that are wider than their carts), talking over their screaming brats and blocking the aisle. I stand there trying to look pleasant waiting for one or both of them to realize that I needed by, but that was not happening. I could feel the horns growing out of my head, but then I realized how much of a coward, a non-confrontational type, that I am. So I cowardly turn around and go down another aisle.

Store aisles are not for socializing. That is an uncivilized cultural anomaly and when you add the hated cart or carts to that along with their snotty nose brats, you create a situation in which I truly wish I was not such a coward, and could just crash through them, saying as I do so that, “You are in my way ladies, move over and wipe that kids snotty nose while you are at it, I’m coming through.”

I only go shopping when I have to get something. To me it is a necessary task and I want to do it with speed and efficiency. Shopping aisles are for people like me, to find what they I need, throw it into that “thing” called a cart and rush to the checkout counter, clanging all the way, and pay for it. Those aisles are not the village square where you congregate and gossip, while sipping your 32oz. sugar drinks, all the while blocking the aisles for real customers like me. Yeah, you know who you are.

After paying for my goods, I race to my truck so I can rid myself of that left turning, clanging, front wheel spinning cart, only to find that several other carts have broke loose from the corral and had congregated around my truck. That had to be the case, because no self respecting person would just turn his cart loose on its own in that parking lot, with the chance of them banging a car or two. Surly that didn’t happen. Who would ditch their cart rather than walk 5 feet and corral it? Tell me that you are not that thoughtless or lazy. Well, I may be wrong about that, because at any given time of day at Wal-Mart, you will find about a hundred carts roaming loose around the parking lot bumping into vehicles. If the carts were just breaking loose, then Wal-Mart would have found a way to keep them corralled. No, I suspect it is people like those two ladies that block the aisle. Anyone that inconsiderate would not stop at leaving their cart where it stopped.

Just saying…

Someone once said that “Veterans are unique people in the fact that they turned over their very lives to the government that they served, like a blank check, where many had to lay it all on the line for one another.  What other profession requires that? I can’t think of any other profession that leaves so indelible a mark on our country as veterans, whether they served in an actual war or just a hitch in our military during war time. It is only fitting that we reserve a day not for any one person, but for a singular role in American life. We celebrate Veterans’ Day.”

I’m proud to be one and thank God we live in a country where vets are so honored. And rightly so, because veterans of all of our wars have made great citizens. And since 911 our country has drawn closer to our vets than ever before. For some of us it has finally became patriotic just to be a vet. So, what does this day do for you other than being a holiday?

For me, it is memories, lots of memories. One memory I have is that I can close my eyes and see myself walking to the airplane and looking back over my shoulder and seeing my wife with tears in her eyes standing there holding my daughters. I can remember wondering if that would be the last time I would ever see them again. Like you, I never can forget memories like that. On the other side of that coin, my wife in a sense, is a veteran also. You see, she had to see me off wondering the same thing. It was bad enough to play the role of both parents, but waiting each day for the mail to run, praying that the proverbial telegram was not included. Yes, she is a vet too. And I honor her for her service too.

Like you, the only war I know is the one I was in. And for me that was the Vietnam War, where I served two tours of duty. And unfortunately, like you (if that was your war,) I came home to a different country than when I left. I was young and naïve and did not understand all the protest against us. Like you, I heeded the call to serve my country. And like you, I did not sign up to occupy any country, oppress anyone, to commit atrocities, to kill babies and such, like we were accused of. I know some atrocities went on, but I never saw them. When you send a million men off to war, there are bound to be a percentage of bad guys included, just like you find in any American City today. However, that was not the norm, but the protester put us all in that bracket. I have never had a problem with people protesting something they believe in, but the veterans did not start that war, we only answered the call. I actually fell in love with the country and its people. What the protesters and people like Jane Fonda did hurt deeply, and caused me, like you, to clam up and not talk about that war. Now 40 years later it is still hard to talk about except to vets like you. After 911, things really changed for us. It was ok to be a vet again, much like the vets, (such as my dad), were at end of WW II. That is until recently. I really thought that the era of “All dogs and soldiers keep off the grass,” was over, until we had a so called government shut down. We got to see what some in our government really think about our vets when they tried to visit the war memorials.

Also like you, for many years not a day went by that I didn’t go back to Vietnam at some time during the day or night. Even today like you, regardless of what war you served in, it takes very little to spark a memory or two. Today I can close my eyes and hear the helicopters and remember the smells. I can even remember the smell of that herbicide called Agent Orange while flying through areas where it was sprayed. I think about how it has damaged the health of many of my friends, mine own included , and maybe even yours. I saw my uncle die from what it did to him. I think about the fight veterans have waged with the VA just to get them to recognize what it has done to us. And the fight that the Iraq and Afghanistan vets have waged for similar health issues or problems. I think about how some came home (no matter what war) and brought the war home with them. We have no unwounded war veterans. We all have the scars, some are just more visible than others. Yes, Veterans’ Day is a day of memories.

Outside of that, you can’t pick a better country. Outside of that, I doubt anyone of you wouldn’t hastate to do it all over again. Even now at our age, if our homeland was in jeopardy and the call to arms was made, you would be there on the front line. That’s because you are an American Veteran. Great American Patriots all, who like our forefather patriots, loved freedom more than their own life.

God bless you all…

Peace in the Valley

Craig introduces him as their dad and inspiration. He normally remains in the background willing to let others have the limelight. Before the service he can be seen walking around but not calling attention to himself. He very politely greets everyone, especially the new people that were there for the first time, accepting them for who they are. As a servant leader, his humbleness is legendary. He is Ray Burnett our patriarch, and he came on stage to sing a song that he has sung several hundred times. “Peace in the Valley,” one of the best known Negro Spirituals ever written.

“There will be peace in the valley for me some day
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh, Lord, I pray
There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow, no trouble I see
Only peace in the valley for me, oh, yes”

He might have been 82 years old, but the long standing ovation testified that his voice was as clear as the song he was singing. Thomas  Dorsey would have been proud.

It was our Men’s Steak Night Fellowship, and we were celebrating our third year by having our ladies join us. We loved it so much we want to have them again soon. 200+ men and women had come together in Ray’s Compost Barn to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and there was peace in our valley that night. Our Speaker Jeep, that night, told us men what our women really want to see was Godly Praying Men. That our country was moving in the wrong direction and as Jesus cleared the temple of corruption we need to do the same for our country, and that takes Godly praying men.

Our country needs more of what is going on at that compost barn on the second Tuesday night each month. Where you can look over the crowd and know that the racial barriers have been broken down. I think about John Daye who sang “Amazing Grace.”  That song was written by John Newton who was a captain of a slave ship, which may have brought John’s ancestors to America as slaves. Every month Clyde Alexander, a prominent black servant leader in Madison County is there, along with several different political and denominational leaders. It didn’t matter whether your ancestors came to America on a slave ship or the Mayflower, that night we were one.

On this night, in a world gone mad and a country that seems to have lost its way, all of the trash that we carry around daily was pushed aside and we had peace in our valley.  All of our cultural, political and denominational differences were replaced with the common bond that only Christ can give. If only our congress do the same.

Jeep said that our country needs to raise up good men, which reminds me of a brilliant French philosopher who was curious about what made our nation so great. Alexis de Tocqueville set out in 1831 to travel around America. In his book Democracy in America, written in 1835, he wrote; “Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention, I sought for the key to the greatness and the genius of America in her harbors … in her fertile fields and boundless forests … in her public school system and institutions of learning … in her democratic Congress and in her matchless constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

That truth is confirmed over and over in the Bible, Proverbs 14:34 says; “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”

There will be peace in the valley for me some day.