Posts Tagged ‘Brandon Buttry’

A military honor guard carries Brandon Buttry’s casket from the airplane that brought him home to Shenandoah, Iowa.

After my nephew, Brandon Buttry, was killed in Afghanistan earlier this month, I played a role no one ever anticipates: handling media requests about a loved one’s death.

I’m blogging some advice learned from the experience for any or all of three audiences:

  • Relatives of fallen troops who want to help the family deal with the media. (If my advice is helpful, I hope they will find the post through search or by someone sharing with them when they need it).
  • Journalists (the usual readers of this blog) who may cover military deaths.
  • Military public affairs officers or casualty assistance officers, who assist families of military casualties after the death. (I’m hoping they will find this piece through search or Google alerts or perhaps journalists sharing it with them.)

Some of my advice might fit in other situations where your family is suddenly in the news — death from a disaster or crime, for instance — but I am focusing on military deaths because that was my experience and that is a loss that more than 6,000 U.S.  families have experienced during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope you won’t need this advice, but sadly, the carnage in Afghanistan continues. (more…)


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We laid Brandon Buttry to rest today.

The family is exhausted and I don’t have much new to say. I’ll let photos of the past few days at Brandon’s hometown of Shenandoah, Iowa, tell the story of the grief our family feels at our loss and the gratitude we feel for the outpouring of love and support from the community and the nation.

Brandon’s family gathered at the Shenandoah Regional Airport Tuesday, wearing t-shirts with Brandon’s photo: “Our Fallen Hero.”

The backs of the t-shirts bore a Bible verse offering hope and comfort.

Brandon’s plane landed in Shenandoah on Tuesday, eight days after his death in Kandahar, Afghanistan, a highly emotional moment for his family.

The Patriot Guard Riders — veterans who travel to military funerals to honor the war dead — showed out in force at the airport and later at the visitation, funeral and burial. Their devotion to the fallen soldier and his family was deeply touching.

Monday night, Brandon’s parents, Don and Pam, gave me their remembrance of Brandon to read at Thursday’s funeral, including this passage: “You will always be with us. … We will look for that bright smile in every sunbeam.” Tuesday morning I shot this photo (no PhotoShopping, I swear) as the family waited for Brandon’s casket to emerge from the plane that brought him home to Shenandoah.

Two lines of Patriot Guard Riders bearing flags stretched out from the plane to honor Brandon as his body came home.

A military honor guard carries Brandon’s casket from the airplane to the hearse.

My cousin, retired Air Force First Sergeant Frank Yunk-Arnold, escorted Brandon’s body home from Dover Air Force Base and stayed for the visitation and funeral.

Stars and stripes for Brandon

Shenandoah got a visit from “Flagman” Larry Eckhardt, who lined the route from the funeral home to the church to the cemetery, and the lanes of the cemetery with a couple thousand American flags, assisted by local volunteers. Driving the route in the quiet of Wednesday morning was a moving experience. The photo in my blog header is just a sliver of the panoramic view of the cemetery.

My sister, Carol Devlin, and I visited the cemetery Wednesday morning, awestruck by the flags rippling in the wind. I thought of another passage from Don and Pam’s letter to Brandon that I would be reading the next day: “When the wind blows, we will listen for your laugh.”

Near my father’s grave, just a short walk from Brandon’s, this flag rippled in the morning sun.

Gov. Terry Branstad ordered flags across Iowa flown at half-staff Thursday. Flags in Shenandoah were lowered all week, including this one at Rose Hill Cemetery, where Brandon was laid to rest Thursday.

Shenandoah shows its love

All across Shenandoah, signs and window displays expressed support for Brandon and his family.

The church where Mimi and I were married 38 years ago was among those expressing support for Brandon and his family.

The Patriot Guard contingent kept growing. I heard that 150 would be there Thursday. It seemed like at least that many, maybe more. They lined the sidewalk outside the church.

A vile, attention-seeking cult posted plans on its website to picket Brandon’s funeral. Thankfully, they never materialized. They would have been drowned out by the Patriot Guard’s Harleys and their signs blocked from our view by sheets and signs expressing thanks for Brandon’s service. And their hatred would have been overwhelmed by the love this community showed. This is the sidewalk across the street from the church.

More flags outside the church, First Baptist Church in Shenandoah, Iowa, where my father, Brandon’s grandfather, was pastor from 1970 to 1976.

As we drove from the church to the cemetery, the flags, signs and people lining the street gave me chills. That’s the Flagman’s truck at the left.

Still more flags and more stirring scenes at the cemetery.

Brandon’s medals and the flag that covered his casket.

I didn’t shoot photos during the funeral and burial. The Des Moines Register, Omaha World-Herald, KMA Radio and Omaha TV stations WOWT, KETV and KMTV covered the funeral and KMA also interviewed me Wednesday. Sonya Sorich of the Ledger-Enquirer wrote about running for Brandon in the Soldier Half-Marathon at Fort Benning, Ga., where Brandon completed basic training. If you haven’t read my previous blog posts about Brandon, I wrote about a family reunion when he was 13 and about his dignified transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base. I also discussed the Dover ceremony in a KMA interview.

Update: I have compiled much of the media coverage into a Storify account (originally posted Nov. 8, but updated and reorganized Nov. 18). I also compiled photos from various sources on a Pinboard in Brandon’s memory.

I thank the journalists who covered Brandon’s death, return and funeral for their compassion and professionalism in covering this story.

Brandon’s family was overwhelmed by the community’s response and the response from all over the country.

Pfc Brandon Lucas Buttry, Jan. 10, 1993 – Nov. 5, 2012

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Brandon Buttry
Jan. 10, 1993 – Nov. 5, 2012


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…)

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