Welcome to Phil Butler’s web site…
I was a U.S. Navy Light Attack/Fighter pilot who went down over North Vietnam in the early days of the Vietnam War. I parachuted into their country when my plane exploded out from under me. Then I spent four days on the run until I was captured and subsequently spent almost eight years — 2,855 days and nights — as a prisoner in terrible conditions. My incarceration as a POW proved to be such a watershed in my life so that I now see it as having lived three lives. These were the time periods Before, During and After the war.
My POW years were a miserable time. I learned about torture first-hand, unlike the policymakers who wag their tongues about brutal treatment of fellow human beings, calling it “enhanced interrogation techniques.” What makes my story different is that unlike many of those who shared my fate at the hands of the North Vietnamese guards and interrogators, I didn’t come home tightly wrapped in a military banner.
Instead, those years of captivity – and I would not trade them for anything; yet nothing would get me to go through them again – produced an epiphany in this young man from Oklahoma. I was a gung-ho U.S. Navy pilot when I was shot down in April of 1965, but when I got back to the United States in February of 1973, I had many questions about the Vietnam War and wars in general. Within a short time period I changed my thinking and became a warrior for peace and justice.
I have spoken to thousands of people across the country about my experiences and the extraordinary lessons that I have learned during my captivity and subsequent third life. This website, and a book that I am writing that speaks to the same themes, is my effort to share what I learned – for the benefit of those who might understand and help move our country forward. They are about my change of heart and mind. They describe my coming of age, military age, growing up in America’s heartland where some of the values and mores I learned no longer serve me well. They tell of my time in the military and the mindless brutality of my captivity, endurable only because of the comradeship with my fellow prisoners, and an over-riding commitment to return with honor. And finally I talk about the extraordinary time since my return, now more than 40 years.
I don’t intend this web site and book as an exercise in self-praise, for after all, many of my experiences just came about through fate and life’s luck-of-the-draw. And I made my share of good and bad decisions along the way. But it’s been an interesting, challenging and at times exciting ride. This story is for those who share a perspective that life is – and should be – a glorious event, with much less violence and much more love and respect.
You, my web site visitor, are encouraged to understand this as a personal case study of my original socialization and subsequent decision making and personal growth. It is my life transition from warrior to peace and justice activist and to becoming a humanist.
Inside this website you can find access to my autobiography, Three Lives of a Warrior, some articles I’ve written, interviews I’ve done, lectures I’ve delivered, and some pieces by others about me and my work. There are also photographs of the three stories of my life. Perhaps some will resonate, and some won’t. But whatever you take from this site, I thank you for your interest.