Learning lesson from a hero that won’t be forgotten
I met my hero recently, a man I will not soon forget.
Along with the 38 others there, my hero, Ken Butler, saved our world from tyranny, autocracy and injustice of the most hellish proportions. From the freezing Ardennes forest during the three month Battle of the Bulge to the liberation of Nazi death camps, Ken brought freedom, justice and liberty to those who had begun to lose hope of ever having it again.
Ken fought selflessly, courageously and without rest. For the 18 months he was deployed, he never once saw home. Traveling to lands he had never heard of, Ken was no more than two years older than I am now. He left his mother, father, sister and brothers to take on evil face to face.
Suffering frostbite in the subzero temperatures and shielded by a lousy excuse for a jacket, Ken did not know whether he would live to get married, have kids and a profession, or grow old.
Recently, 35 San Antonio World War II veterans, with their escorts and 40 high school students from Grapevine, were hosted by the Gary Sinise Foundation to a trip to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
On this trip, I had the opportunity to meet Ken’s son, who chaperoned him, as well as hear stories of his grandson back in the Dallas area. Being with Ken for three days, I saw just how tough and tenacious these men were and still are. When everyone else took the elevators, Ken took the stairs. When offered a seat during our nearly six-hour tour of the museum, Ken elected to stand.
It takes a lot of guts to prepare for an invasion of mainland Japan, yet had Japan not surrendered, Ken would have done exactly that. He told me how the Japanese were training 12- and 13-year-old boys and girls to fight on the island, where Emperor Hirohito was seen as a sort of god. He knew his chances of survival were slim. But Ken was physically and mentally prepared to preserve freedom at all costs, even if it meant making the ultimate sacrifice. Even with all of these experiences permanently set into his mind, Ken still has a witty sense of humor that never failed to make me laugh.
My biggest regret is that we could not have more time together. Though I grew closer to Ken in three days than I could to most in a lifetime, as I stood in the terminal shaking his hand, I kept asking God for just one more hour.
It’s one thing to have someone teach you from a book about how Adolf Hitler was a bad guy. It’s a whole ’nother ballgame to hear the stories from someone who witnessed his hell firsthand. It’s one thing to hear historians talk about how cold it was in the Ardennes. It’s another to hear someone tell firsthand about how they spent three months outside in subzero temperatures, fighting to keep their fingers and toes from frostbite.
The human aspects of war often get lost in the black-and-white pages of history books. Therein lies what I believe to be the fatal flaw of my generation. In a world where knowledge is so readily accessible due to innovations such as the internet, we can absorb information at astronomically higher levels than previous generations. However, we often don’t. With all the stories, videos, articles, books and documentaries at our disposal, we spend our time on worthless activities.
A few wise men told me a familiar line this trip: “Those who forget history are bound to repeat it.” They’re right. With all the conspiracy theories, false information and lack of education in the modern world, it seems as though forgetting people like Ken and the sacrifices they made might be all too easy. We haven’t. Why? Because of people like actor Gary Sinise, whose foundation funded this trip.
And because of people like Ken Butler, those who gave so much, and in some cases all, to the destruction of oppressive and tyrannical governments dedicated to desecrating the freedoms of their people. Because of Ken and his humble willingness to share his experiences with me over the course of these three days, I consider it my duty, honor and privilege to carry these stories with me for the rest of my days and to share them at every opportunity.
Ken, because of you, I will make sure that the sacrifices of those, both living and dead, who fought for the freedoms we too often consider to be set in stone will not be forgotten. Freedom is not free, and thank God for those who saw it worth fighting for.
Connor Kenney is a junior at Grapevine Faith Christian School in Grapevine.