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Watching emergency crews say goodbye to their own

Watching emergency crews say goodbye to their own
            Local colleagues bid fitting farewell to Butler

Butler USE.jpegDeputy Michael Butler


Article contributed by The Journal Record

Journal Record
News Editor

Attending the funeral for former law enforcement officer Michael Butler was an honor in a number of ways, as I was invited to sing at the service as part of a group of four.

But the most important for me was something I could not fully appreciate until sitting in attendance at the service.

The manner in which law enforcement officers bid a final farewell to a colleague is quite special and something I was honored to witness--despite the fact it came while telling one of my friends goodbye.

Many in our area are well aware of Michael’s battle with cancer. He was courageous til the end and served as a model for the rest of us to follow, if and when we learn our days are numbered.

His personal faith never wavered in those months and his compassion for those around him remained true. He was a wonderful family man and a devoted officer. His was a life well lived.
But watching his friends and fellow officers mourn the loss was something to see. Each was in full dress colors with each officer wearing the colors of his department. Many had white gloves to round out the attire with officers filling the Winfield First Baptist Church lobby as I entered a full hour before the service began.

Flowers covered the front of the church as more than 600 filled the lower section of the sanctuary. Hundreds more had attended the visitation service the day before or come through the line to pay their respects prior to the service.

Officers formed a line near Michael’s casket as a silent salute was offered up before the line was open to the other visitors in attendance. There is obviously a brotherhood among those who put their lives in harm’s way on our behalf. This could not be more evident than at a funeral.

Officers paid their respects with many seen wiping away tears as the service neared. There was not a dry eye in the house as the service ended and the voice of Hamilton Assistant Fire Chief Matt McCracken filled the sanctuary by way of the sound system.

Ordering what is known as a last call, the voice was used to represent a dispatch from Marion County 49 Base to the fallen officer. His badge number was called more than once as dispatch attempted to reach the deceased officer. Nearing the end of the call, dispatch noted Michael was no longer able to serve but would be missed by his colleagues.

Sitting in utter silence as the dispatch call ended, family and friends could be seen wiping a tear as Michael’s loving wife, Miranda, wept and hugged the couple’s two young daughters. I must admit, my eyes were not moist--they were pouring tears as fast as I could wipe them away.

In time, Michael’s flag-draped casket was directed out of the church and into an awaiting hearse for his final ride. The funeral procession was led to a nearby cemetery following a route through Winfield. As the hearse turned eastward at the main intersection, it was led under an American flag which had been raised above the four-lane highway moments earlier by firefighters from three local departments.

Ladder trucks from nearby Hamilton and Haleyville had formed a huge arch over the street from which the American flag was waving in the breeze. I can only imagine how moved the family must have been driving under this symbolic gesture as directed by the department in Winfield.

In addition to his recent role as a Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy, Michael had served as a police officer in Winfield and as a volunteer firefighter in the community he called home.
Colleagues from each of his former work places wanted to say goodbye. Virtually every law enforcement agency and fire department in the area was represented--from sheriff and police and state troopers to local fire departments.

These brothers sat one by the other in the sanctuary as the service unfolded with many visibly moved by the words of those who spoke.

Listening to each who stood at the podium, it was clear Michael had lived a life which impacted others. He was a man of character, who had chosen never to waver from his faith despite his pain and the fact he understood his journey on this Earth would end well before his girls had seen adulthood.

But as much as I cried for his wife and daughters on this day, it was the comradery of the emergency responders community which struck a chord. In my line of work, I see this quite often. My office staff has even noted the bond between those who serve and how we wish all in Marion County could love and depend upon each other as these men and women do. We would all be the better for it.

So with that, let me say a heartfelt goodbye to a man who had become a friend to me and was obviously loved by those who knew him and depended upon him even more than I. God bless you my friend. Save my seat up there. I plan on seeing you when my life comes to the same end as yours. My prayer is that I can write the final chapter in my book with the same grace and dignity with which you penned yours.

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