The first time Brandon Buttry greeted me that way on a Facebook chat, I paused a moment, trying to fill in some punctuation and a few implied letters. I guess I figured out that he was asking, “What’s up?”
Anyway, we chatted again and again, usually exchanging just a line or two (often about what was up, naturally).
What was up was that Brandon was fighting our nation’s longest war. And now he’s one of its casualties. Monday morning my brother, Don, and his wife, Pam, got the visit that parents of the men and women serving in the military dread most. Soldiers were at their door in rural Iowa with the news that Brandon had been killed in action in Afghanistan.
Don’s and my father, Luke Buttry, was an Air Force chaplain during the Vietnam War, though he never was stationed in Vietnam. His worst duty was to be the bearer of that heartbreaking news when a son or husband would not be coming home.
My generation in our family didn’t serve in the military. I was in the first age-group not drafted when we turned 19. We still had the draft lottery for people born in 1954, though. My number was 9, so I would have been called if the draft had continued. I applied for 1-AO status, meaning I was a conscientious objector who would not bear arms but would serve in a non-combat role. Until they dropped the draft, I was wondering whether I would be a chaplain’s assistant or a medic. Instead, I was a civilian journalist and happy about that.
Brandon’s father, Don, was two years younger than me, well past the end of the draft and not interested in volunteering.
Our older brother, Dan, was a conscientious objector but had a high draft number and is a peace missionary. He was in Asia leading a 10-day conflict management seminar for religious leaders and peace activists when I called him Monday with the news of Brandon’s death. We talked about what a happy, fun kid he was. We exchanged memories of our Facebook chats with him, often starting with a “sup” from Brandon.
What was up Wednesday evening was that Mimi and I were standing on the flight line at Dover Air Force Base, a nor’easter‘s driving rain mixing with the tears on our cheeks as an honor guard carried Brandon’s flag-draped box across the tarmac. (more…)