Veterans Day: Honoring shipmates and their service

Retired Chief Petty Officer Jim Butz and his family at the site of their future Americans with Disabilities Act compliant home. Photo courtesy of Donna Butz.

Retired Chief Petty Officer Jim Butz and his family at the site of their future Americans with Disabilities Act compliant home. Photo courtesy of Donna Butz.

Written by Lt. Scott Carr.

Retired Chief Petty Officer Jim Butz stood center stage at the Cody, Wyo., rodeo grounds during intermission of the Xtreme Bulls event, believing he was there to address the crowd about the Wounded Warrior Project. His right leg was encased in a solid core carbon graphite brace with titanium hinges and his left hand held a cane for stability.

The 45-year-old father of five was expecting the microphone, but instead, Lee Kirgan, Operation Finally Home director of housing, arrived with a framed poster from the rodeo. Handing it to Butz he said, “This will look great in your new home.”

Retired Chief Petty Officer Jim Butz and his family react to the news of their new home at the Xtreme Bulls event. Photo courtesy of Donna Butz.

Retired Chief Petty Officer Jim Butz and his family react to the news of their new home at the Xtreme Bulls event. Photo courtesy of Donna Butz.

Operation Finally Home was gifting the Butz family with a mortgage free, custom built Americans with Disabilities Act compliant home.

The stadium erupted, excitement filling the air as the realization set in that one of their own residents, in the small town of nearly 10,000 people, was going to receive a new home.

“I couldn’t be happier for the Butz family,” said Cmdr. Rosemary Firestine, Butz’s last commanding officer at Maritime Safety and Security Team San Diego. “They have faced incredible challenges over the past few years and you won’t find a more deserving family.”

When the American public thinks about the military and disabled Veterans, the Coast Guard may not be the first service that comes to mind. Yet each day, Coast Guard men and women conduct operations that place them in harm’s way.

Pacific Ocean, May 23, 2003

Butz, then a boarding officer aboard cutter Hamilton, lead an eight-man team on a response boat bound for a container vessel suspected of harboring questionable cargo.

The sea-state, playing havoc with the coxswain’s approach, made the impending transfer treacherous. A voice crackled across the radio, “This is a high priority boarding; we need you to get aboard that vessel.” Moving to the bow of the response boat, Butz waited for the peak in the swell, stepped off the boat onto the ladder and started to climb.

Moments later, the unthinkable happened. Just three rungs up the ladder, a larger swell lifted the 5,000-pound response boat, slamming the boat into his right knee and back, leaving him crushed, dangling on the ladder.

Pain radiating through his back and leg, Butz’s only option was to climb. Utilizing all his strength and his one good leg he climbed 40 feet up the ladder, secured the area and waited for the rest of the boarding team to arrive.

Continued service

His 40-foot assent that day was just the onset of a 10-year journey that would require 20 surgeries and three complete knee replacements. He retired from the Coast Guard after 24 years of service but continues his calling to help others by supporting veterans and other wounded warriors in the Cody area.

Retired Chief Petty Officer Jim Butz. Photo courtesy of Donna Butz.

Retired Chief Petty Officer Jim Butz. Photo courtesy of Donna Butz.

Butz, like many disabled veterans, quietly struggles each day. He, along with millions of other veterans, joined the military to serve their country – so others may live. No longer in uniform, those embers of service continue to burn in these patriotic Americans and instead of complaining about their predicament or ailments, they serve.

They serve their community through organizations, like The American Legion, USO, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Wounded Warrior Project, Operation Home Front and Operation Finally Home to name a few. Veterans also work in local communities, raising awareness of the sacrifice our veterans have made and in some cases raising money to pay bills, medical expenses or provide ADA housing for our disabled Veterans.

The Butz’s new home is scheduled for completion Mother’s Day 2014. The honor of a new home has emboldened Butz to continue and pay it forward on behalf of the veterans who call Wyoming home.

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  • Tom Teare

    Great job Chief! Thanks for your service and the sacrifices of your wife and kids too. Semper Paratus!

  • Dennis Patterson

    Fellow CG vet and Wyoming resident, BZ Chief Butz! Thank you for your service!

  • Audrey

    I appreciate all our Coasties do for us. They have saved many lives and protected those at sea. And, yes, intercepted a lot of drugs on their way to this country. My son has just retired from the Coast Guard after 22 years of service (9 in the Navy and 13 in the Coast Guard). I am proud of him!

  • No drama no more

    Thanks to LT Carr for bringing us this story, I am very happy for Chief Butz and his family, and very thankful for the organizations that supported them in their time of need.