Navy radioman Bill Butler holds vivid memories of year in Vietnam

Note: This article appeared in the Aug. 26 edition of the “Redstone Rocket.” This article was written by “Redstone Rocket” editor Skip Vaughn and reprinted by permission. (skip.vaughn@theredstonerocket.com)

MADISON – During his tour in Vietnam, Bill Butler met a famous American athlete assigned to his unit.

In 1966, Bill Butler was a 19-year-old radioman in Naval Support Activity in Chu Lai. Butler provided daily requisitions to his Navy unit’s soon-to-be-famous supply officer, Lieutenant Roger Staubach.

Butler got the future NFL Hall of Famer’s signature on paperwork. However, individuals could not use official Navy documents for private use, so Butler does not have Staubach’s autograph.

Butler hasn’t communicated with the Dallas Cowboys quarterback since leaving Chu Lai in 1967. When Butler left, Staubach was still there.

“He was nice. He was good. I liked him,” Butler said. “I never worked directly under him, but every day I saw him.”

Butler initially was assigned to Da Nang headquarters for his 11-month tour. Butler completed communications work in the two-story fortress building, “The White Elephant,” probably nicknamed for its size.

A mural of an elephant pack adorned the front gates of the heavily-fortified building. Butler worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. Butler remembers “long hours and stuck in the White Elephant … If there was a threat, the gates would be closed with a Marine tank unit guarding the perimeter.”

Eventually, Butler was promoted to seaman. He saw the most action during his first two weeks in Da Nang when he rode guard duty on transport trucks. “It’s just the idea of hearing gunfire and seeing flares going up all night long and riding on the back of a truck,” he said.

When he transferred to Chu Lai, he heard more gunfire and B-52s’ bombing runs. His two closest calls were a jeep accident that injured his head and a nighttime incident at sea when he was asked to jump from one boat to another. He swam underwater in pitch black with high wind and seas.

However, some experiences were good times in Vietnam. He saw comedienne Phyllis Diller in Da Nang. In addition, a radioman in Chu Lai was escaping fire when he slipped and fell, splitting his pants and losing his boots.

In Lynchburg, Va., Butler had joined the Navy Reserve in high school and entered active duty in June 1965. After six months of radioman training in Bainbridge, Md., he completed counterinsurgency training at Camp Coronado in San Diego, Calif.

Then at Camp Pendleton, he learned basic infantry tactics and weapons. His trip from the Philippines to Vietnam took about seven days by ship.

Returning home in March 1967, Butler saw antiwar protesters in Los Angeles. “Oh man, being in Vietnam and what you go through. You’re proud of what you’re doing. You have a sense of patriotism and mutual respect,” he said. “And then to get back to the States, everything changed.”

He left the Navy as Petty Officer Second Class, reenlisted in Navy Reserve and joined the Army in 1977. He retired from the Army in 1993 as a Master Sergeant.

“I’ve always been proud to be in the military and in Vietnam,” he said. “I enjoyed my military career and going all over the world with the Navy and the Army. I feel fortunate to have been in both.”

Butler worked for Mevatec Corporation and Radiance Technologies as a government property administrator. His wife, Sol Cha, died in 2004. Their son, James, served eight years in Army Reserve and lives in Madison.

Bill Butler, 74, enjoys military re-enactments with First Patriot Support Group. He and friend Bridget Liddle share a mutual interest in hiking.

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