The wolf is one of Butch’s totem animals. So it is no wonder that the former Army Ranger forged deep and loving relationships with the canine companions who have blessed him over the years.
Army or jail
Butch had a difficult childhood growing up in Northville, Michigan. His family is of Native American descent, and experienced frequent racial discrimination and prejudice.
With racial slurs and hatred directed towards him, Butch began to fight back. He equates the atmosphere to what many African Americans experienced in the deep south during the 1950s and 60s.
“We were getting into a lot of trouble,” he says.
After one particular altercation Butch had to go to court. The judge gave him a choice: serve 90 days in jail or join the Army.
Butch chose the Army. After training the young man with the troubled young life was deployed to Vietnam.
“You can’t have fear”
Looking back, Butch may have wished that he chose to serve his time in jail instead of enlisting in the military. Vietnam was a very bad experience that haunts him til this day.
The young Army Ranger had a particularly difficult time seeing women and children in distress.
Butch struggles to talk about his time in Vietnam and tries to “not to let it out.” He represses the bad memories and feelings surrounding his time in the war into what he describes a dark hole in his chest.
Sometimes he can still feel the fear.
In Vietnam there was a sense of constant and imminent fear in the air, but it could not be acted upon. Doing so would endanger not only one’s life, but those of others as well.
“You can’t have fear,” the Army veteran says. “If you’re scared you keep it under control.”
One of the first things Butch learned in the military was to look after his men. And as a squad leader it was his duty as well.
“First thing is you protect you and then [the] guy to your left and right,” he says, “and you never ever leave people behind.”
The young Army Ranger was engaged in many search-and-destroy missions. He describes these experiences as gruesome and disturbing. During one such mission, Butch remembers hearing a Huey helicopter above him. He looked up and saw the peace symbol painted on the chopper’s bottom.
Butch thought that was one of the most uplifting things he could possibly have seen in such a dark place and time.
The jungles of Vietnam were perilous for our service members. So the military used a powerful herbicide to clear the dense brush that provided cover for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops.
That herbicide was Agent Orange. It contained lethal chemicals which were later found to cause severe health issues to locals, and to our veterans and their families.
Butch recalls his experiences with Agent Orange which, at the time, troops were told was harmless.
“We’d be soaking wet, but it wasn’t from rain,” he says.
Twice daily, planes would fly overhead spraying the deadly agent. Butch witnessed the lethality of Agent Orange first hand when he saw how quickly huge banana leaves would fizzle and disintegrate.
For decades the Veterans Administration denied the powerful health effects of Agent Orange. Yet after the war Butch battled cancer three times – all he believes from exposure to the deadly chemical.
Leaving the war that never leaves you
In July of 1969, Butch was discharged after serving in the 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division (ID). The 9th ID were known as the “old reliables” for their many successful missions in Vietnam.
But there was no peace to be found at home. Butch had a very difficult time adjusting to civilian life. Nightmares and flashbacks robbed him of sleep. He started to drink heavily. A life of alcoholism cost him three marriages.
In time Butch regained control of his life. He is now sober six years and married to his fourth wife. She was previously married to a Marine Corps veteran and has a unique appreciation for her husband’s struggles.
“My wife completely understands me,” he says.
Butch would come to celebrate another joy in his life as well. He adopted a boy who was just three months old at the time. Now nearly 40, his son serves in the Navy.
“He joined the service and I was proud of him,” Butch says.
For the love of dog
Butch always had dogs throughout his life. The former Army Ranger leaned on them for emotional support during the many trying times both before and after the war.
The Vietnam veteran shares how everyone in the Native American culture has totem animals that guide them through life. These are determined by the Native American Moon under which each person is born.
One of Butch’s totem animals is the wolf, a symbol of fidelity, guardianship, and enduring social connections. This not only describes Butch, but he believes it explains the profound bond he feels with dogs.
And it is why he feels that his recently departed Mastiff, Lucy, sent him his next canine companion straight from her heavenly perch.
A dog who is heaven sent
After grieving Lucy’s death Butch knew that he needed another dog in his life. He visited the Michigan Humane Society to start his search.
Since 2011, the organization has partnered with us to help veterans adopt program-eligible pets and offers them discounted care at its three veterinary clinics.
The search did not take long. In fact it was not much of a search at all. Coco was a then nearly three year-old Pit Bull-German Shepherd mix, waiting for a home.
“I walked by her cage and glanced, then stopped,” Butch says.
The brindle beauty tilted her head and looked into the eyes of the man who would save her.
“I felt chills and I knew right then. It was like she was reading my mind.”
It was just five days since Butch had been approved into our program when he met and adopted Coco. Her transition into his home and life has been seamless. She has won the hearts of his wife and other family members as effortlessly as she earned Butch’s love.
Coco enjoys full run of the house, which she guards as her own, and is the official greeter for all visitors.
“She filled one huge, huge crater in my mind and heart over losing my Mastiff.”
And it is that Mastiff who the Vietnam veteran believes put Coco into their lives.
“We believe Lucy, from heaven, sent us that dog.”
The Vietnam veteran credits Pets for Patriots with helping him fill a profound and spiritual void in his life. In turn, he tells every veteran he meets about our mission and work, and encourages them to apply.
“You guys do some of the most wonderful things for pets,” he says. “This program is one of the best. [It’s one of the] nicest things that has ever been done for me because of my military experience.”
Coco would no doubt agree. She found a home with a veteran who has a deep, soulful connection to her. The Pit Bull mix found her hero, one who would not so much as change a single hair on her head.
“She can do no wrong,” Butch says. “There’s nothing she does wrong, there’s not a thing I would change…She is perfect.”