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LCpl Kenneth Butler
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LCpl Kenneth Butler
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Wednesday, 26-Oct-2005 00:00
LCpl Kenneth Butler

Death of a dream

By Andrew Dys The Herald

As a kid learning to ride his bike around Rock Hill's Hargett Park, Kenny Butler wanted to be a cowboy. He succeeded, riding bulls on the rodeo circuit in North Carolina.
Then he joined the U.S. Marine Corps straight out of high school.

Butler went to Iraq as a humvee turret gunner two months ago. On Friday, a bomb blew up his humvee west of Baghdad, Butler's brother said.

Lance Cpl. Kenneth James Butler won't ever ride another bull. He died at 19.

Butler moved away from Rock Hill in elementary school, but his family -- and their memories -- remain.

"My brother was tough, tough enough to get kicked by a bull then get up and walk away," said brother Carl Butler, 23, who still lives in Rock Hill in the house on Steed Street where the Butler boys rough-housed and played.

Butler's father, Carlton "Buster" Butler Jr., who served seven years in the Army, lived in Rock Hill all his life until moving to Mecklenburg County last year. Butler's grandparents, Cynthia and Carlton Butler Sr., are still in Rock Hill.

Proud to be a Marine

All the Marines will say is Butler died when an "improvised explosive device" blew up while Butler was "conducting combat operations against enemy forces."

What the family knows is Butler, called "Cowboy Bill" by his grandmother, is dead.

Carlton Butler Sr. said his grandson was proud to be a Marine. The Navy veteran said he was proud to be the grandfather of a Marine.

"I've known him since he was 12, and I thought he'd be a farmer," said Nina Butler, Carl's wife. "He loved horses."

Butler joined the Marines after a recruiter came to Butler's Rowan County, N.C., high school, where he lived with his mother and stepfather.

"He called me up one day and said, 'Yep, I joined the Marines,'" his father said. "I knew he'd go to Iraq or Afghanistan or one of them places, so I asked if he was sure. He said he was sure, so he went."

Butler is the third serviceman with York County roots to die in Iraq. Paul Neff II, who grew up in Fort Mill, died in November 2003. Rock Hill pilot Pat Leach died in December.

With the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Butler racked up three medals in about two months in Iraq, said Lt. Barry Edwards, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Division. Butler was promoted from private first class Oct. 1.

Now Butler gets a Purple Heart, Edwards said.

Butler's father said he's not against the war and he doesn't blame anyone. The country had to do something after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he said.

"The last time I talked to him before he shipped out, I wished him luck," Buster Butler said. "Can't say this was luck."

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Recently, Butler's grandmother, Cynthia Butler, stopped by Richmond Drive Elementary School around the corner from her Rock Hill home to drop off a picture of her grandson.

"She wanted to show me I would be proud of one of the students I had taught in the first grade," said Lu Anne Cox, a longtime teacher at Richmond Drive. "I remember him distinctly. A wonderful student. Bright. Energetic. Just a great kid."

Tuesday night, Cox was talking to her son, Army Staff Sgt. Jamie Wagoner, who is in his second tour in Iraq. She mentioned one of her former students was in combat. She gave her son Butler's contact information with hopes the two could meet. Cox planned to write a letter today to Butler, saying how proud she was of him.

But Wednesday she found out the kid from the first grade died in some place in the desert called Al Amariyah, Iraq.

Cox, whose students have adopted Wagoner's military unit and sent hundreds of care packages, was stunned.

"The children we teach in first grade are not supposed to die in wars," Cox said.

Andrew Dys • 329-4065


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