Retired Nacogdoches general reflects on true meaning of Memorial Day

Mike Butchko, a retired US Air Force major general, wants people to remember the true reasons for Memorial Day. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Mike Butchko, a retired US Air Force major general, wants people to remember the true reasons for Memorial Day. (Source: KTRE Staff)
An early picture of Mike Butchko as he began his career in the U.S. Air Force. (Source; Mike Butchko)
An early picture of Mike Butchko as he began his career in the U.S. Air Force. (Source; Mike Butchko)

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Memorial Day is meant to honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation.

For those who personally lost friends and loved ones, the day of honor has special significance.  
    
East Texas News visited with one of those individuals, retired Air Force Major General Mike Butchko, of Nacogdoches.

"This is the first graduating class from the air force academy," Butchko said.

A young Butchko was there back in June of 1959 and caught on camera by "Life" magazine.

"This is my last day as a freshman cadet being picked on by the upperclassman. 'Rack that chin in, Butchko,'" Butchko said with a chuckle.

The camaraderie began. They were well-trained and confident combat pilots flying fast jets. 
 
"Twenty miles a minute," Butchko said.

They felt invincible until they flew in the Vietnam War.

"My class at the Air Force Academy, the Class of 1962, had the highest combat loss ratio of any class before or since at the Air Force Academy," Butchko said. "My roommate was one of those."

The roommate's name is Major John Leonard Carroll, shot down on Nov. 7, 1972.

Butchko completed 109 combat missions, but none compared to the day he volunteered to face his roommate's kindergarten daughter and first-grade son.

"One of my most difficult situations in my entire life was my arms around those two children, Julie on this side and Mike on this side, and telling them their dad wasn't coming home," Butchko said, pausing at one moment

It's the kind of story that makes Memorial Day so personal for so many.

"And that's why those of us who feel a personal attachment to it have to be out there and reminding people that it is more than just a sales day, more than just a barbecue day," Butchko said. "At least take a minute or so to think about what it is and why it is and why it is so important."

Butchko won't forget even though he has a lot to think about these days. He's fighting his own battle. Cancer.

A battle of war, the consequences of loss, and an individual's fight for survival are just a few of the reasons to find a personal Memorial Day story, so you can reach out in support.

Butchko will be the guest speaker for the Memorial Day service, hosted by Nacogdoches Memorial Post No. 3893. The program starts at 11 a.m., and it will be followed by a barbecue at noon and a dance afterward. The event will be held at the VFW post located at 2406 Hunter Road.

For a full bio on Carroll, click here. To read Butcho's bio, click here.

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