Chesterton Tribune

'He didn't hesitate:' Airborne medic Jim Butz dies a hero in Afghanistan

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Spc. James A. Butz

By KEVIN NEVERS

Jim Butz didn’t hesitate.

When two Marines on a patrol in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan were hit last week—probably by an improvised explosive device (IED)—Butz, a medic with the 82nd Airborne Division, rushed to their aid. And was himself struck by an IED.

Butz, a 2009 graduate of Chesterton High School, a football player, a wrestler, the beloved son of John Jr. and MaryJane Butz, brother of Will and John, died of his wounds on Thursday, Sept. 28.

He was 21.

Jim’s father, John Jr., told the Chesterton Tribune today that the U.S. Army is still investigating the circumstances of his son’s death but, as he’s been told, Jim’s platoon of 24—an element of the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division—was working in support of a Special Forces detachment negotiating with local villages.

At some point the patrol had dismounted and two members of Marine Recon, tasked to Jim’s unit, walked ahead for a reconnaissance, alert to the possibility of IEDs as they’d been reported in the area. “They walked up, they walked back, they didn’t find anything,” John said. “Then they walked back up again and there was an explosion and the two Marines went down. Jimmy didn’t hesitate. He ran out to give aid and a second blast went off. He was killed in the second explosion. All three died at the same time.”

“It was a medic’s worst nightmare,” John said. “That’s what medics do. They help people under fire.”

Jim Remembered

This morning John remembered his son. “He was pretty outgoing. He had the gift of gab. He always had a lot of friends around him. Jimmy was a leader. He was the instigator. He was a happy, fun kid. He was full of energy.”

Jim had his passions. “The last couple of years it was the military,” John said. “Before that it was football and wrestling. Before that it was soccer.”

In fact Jim missed his senior year with the Trojans—he was a defensive lineman—after being injured. “He couldn’t play football. He couldn’t wrestle. That really hit him. He was on crutches his last year.”

What Jim did do, though, was take a medical class. “He’d heard there was a bunch of girls in the class and he signed up for it. They learned physical therapy, rode with ambulances.”

Then, on graduating CHS, Jim enlisted, John said. “He made up his mind early to go into the military. I don’t really know why. No one else in the family had gone into the military.”

John thinks now that it may have been his son’s strong streak of independence, his desire “to do it on his own,” to make his own way in the world.

Jim’s decision, on the other hand, to jump out of airplanes—to wear the maroon beret of Airborne—may have had something to do with John’s own skydiving experiences. “I parachuted when I was young. I think he was trying to impress me. That’s the reason he joined Airborne.”

A Soldier

John admits to having been disappointed when Jim opted for the military instead of college—“I had a college fund set up for him. He had the brains, he had the ability, he was very smart”—but he saw his son blossom as a soldier. “Jim really liked what he was doing. He thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s kind of a Spartan lifestyle but he had his act together. He had a plan for himself. He had objectives and he was working to achieve them.”

“He’d bought himself a Ranger and just paid it off,” John said. “He was so thrilled and proud. He was putting aside money for himself for the future.”

And when John last spoke with his son, Jim was “talking about re-enlisting. He was looking at his options. He wanted to get through LPN training. That was his overall goal, to become a registered nurse. That was his plan.”

Hero

Spc. James A. Butz didn’t hesitate.

He died doing his job, giving succor, acting selflessly.

He died a hero.

“Jim always wanted to be the star of the football team,” John recalled fondly. “He wasn’t but he wanted to be. But they’re all heroes. All the guys who go over there.”

John and MaryJane will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary this week. “We have a good family and we’re looking forward to another 25 years. But it’s hard to get used to. We’re so proud of Jim.”

The last thing John told the Tribune this morning is this: “Please let everyone know how thankful we are to the community. People have really been nice, in the community, at work. I work at Mittal, MaryJane works at Lighthouse Place. The kindness and support mean so much to us.”

Posted 10/3/2011