Phillip N. Butler

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Phillip N. Butler
Butler with brick from "Hanoi Hilton"
Born (1938-08-11) August 11, 1938 (age 85)
Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Navy
Years of service1961–1981
Battles/warsVietnam War
AwardsSilver Star (2)
Legion of Merit (2)
Bronze Star Medal (2)
Purple Heart (2)
Other workPresident of Veterans for Peace

Phillip Neal "Phil" Butler (born August 11, 1938) is a retired United States Navy officer and pilot. He was the eighth-longest-held U.S. prisoner of war (POW) held in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Butler, who was forced to eject after a mid-air explosion on April 20, 1965,[1]: 44  was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam until his release as part of Operation Homecoming in 1973.[2] Butler was one of the five POWs (with Carlyle "Smitty" Harris, Hayden Lockhart, Robert Peel, and Robert H. Shumaker) credited with establishing the tap code.[3] The code enabled the prisoners to communicate with each other.[2]

After his release, Butler earned a PhD in sociology and used his communication skills to provide leadership training in military and civilian life. Butler provided community service as President of Veterans for Peace. In October 2019 Butler was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.[4]

Early life[edit]

Phillip Neal Butler was born on August 11, 1938, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He attended Lanier Elementary School, Wilson Jr. High School and Will Rogers High School, from which he graduated[5] in Tulsa, Oklahoma.[6] He logged enough flying hours to receive a commercial pilots license two months after his high school graduation.[7] Butler attended the University of Oklahoma with a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship and then accepted an appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.[7]

Military career[edit]

Navy training and early career[edit]

Phillip Butler graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1961 from the United States Naval Academy.[6] Butler received his officer's commission and married Karen Olsen the day after graduation. On assignment in Texas, Butler flew the single-seated fighter airplane, Grumman F-11 Tiger, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.[7][8] Butler was assigned to Naval Air Station Lemoore in California.[9]


During his second West Pacific cruise, on the night of April 20, 1965, Butler launched from the USS Midway in his A-4C Skyhawk. His mission was to fly from the Gulf of Tonkin to Highway 1, the major transportation route that the North Vietnamese used to carry military supplies to their troops in the south.[10]: 12  The bombing run was at night because that was when the North Vietnamese moved material. According to Butler's report his aircraft exploded due to a malfunction of the electrically-fused Mark-81 VT experimental fuses on the 250-lb bombs.[8]

After ejecting, he covered over 70 miles (110 km) in four days with nothing to eat or drink other than what he could find on the jungle floor.[8][1] On the fourth day, the North Vietnamese, using dogs, were able to track him down and capture him. Butler went down near the North Vietnamese city of Vinh.

pilots gear at Vinh City Military Museum
Image at Vinh city Military Museum show gear from downed US pilot captured during the Vietnam War.

Butler was moved around to ten different prisons in North Vietnam over the next seven years and ten months.[11][12]

Butler was first reported missing[13][7] and then mistakenly reported killed in action.[6] The erroneous news of his death was published in his home town of Tulsa, Oklahoma.[6]

Returned POW Phil Butler meets his family at the Tulsa Ok airport
Phil Butler returns to Tulsa Oklahoma to greet his family
Butler greets his family in Tulsa March 1973
Lt. Cmdr. Phillip Butler's greeted by family including Grandmother Butler (wheel chair), Cousin John A. Howard (12 year old to his right)

In 1965 Butler was placed in the same cell with Carlyle "Smitty" Harris, Lieutenant Robert Peel and Robert H. Shumaker.[10]: 25  Harris taught the others a special code that he had learned at a survival training.[14] : 97  This tap code enabled the prisoners to communicate with quiet taps on the walls of the cells.[15][16]

After the death of Ho Chi Minh in September 1969 the treatment of the US POWs improved.[17][2][18]: 489 

After release[edit]

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Philip Neal Butler meeting with U.S. Navy Commander Robert Harper Shumaker following their release as POWs

After recovery from his injuries and a difficult divorce Butler attended graduate school while in the Navy. Butler earned a Ph.D. in Sociology at UC San Diego and worked as a Navy Organizational Effectiveness consultant and a professor of management at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. Butler retired from the Navy as a Commander in 1981.


Silver Star medal award for courage
POW medal
Prisoner of War medal
  • Butler was awarded 2 Silver Stars (Silver Star Medal with Gold Star indicating two awards), In part it read ..." for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while interned as a Prisoner of War In North Vietnam. During the period May to July 1967 Commander Butler's captors, completely ignoring international agreements, subjected him to extreme mental and physical cruelties in an attempt to obtain military information or false confessions for propaganda his determination, courage, resourcefulness and devotion to duty Commander Butler reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest tradition of the Naval Service and the US Armed Forces."
  • Butler was awarded a Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device and a Gold Star indicating two awards
  • Purple Heart with Gold Star indicating 2 awards
  • Two Legion of Merit awards "..for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services...while interned as a POW in North Vietnam..he performed duties involving highly classified material in an exemplary and professional manner. Through his zealousness and ingenuity, he generated new ideas and improvised techniques greatly enhancing covert operations.
  • Navy Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device,
  • Prisoner of War Medal.

Awards and honors[edit]

  • Inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame 2019[4]
  • Awarded Veteran of the Year by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors October 23, 2018[19]
  • Baha'i Human Rights Award 2019 presented at the United Nations human rights day celebration [20]

Civilian life[edit]


Phil Butler, returned POW and President of Veterans for Peace with wife
President of Veterans for Peace Phil Butler, and his wife Barbara

Butler had a consulting and management company,[21][22] Camelot Enterprises 1981–2000,[8][23][24] specializing in executive team building, interpersonal skills, planning, personal coaching and mentoring.

Veterans for Peace[edit]

Butler served as president of Veterans for Peace (1997–2000). Butler opposed the candidacy of fellow former POW John McCain in the 2008 US presidential campaign, supporting Barack Obama. He said that "John McCain is not somebody I would like to see with his finger near the red button".[25]

Community service[edit]

  • Veterans for Peace chapter 46 of Monterey County[8]
  • Coalition of Homeless Services Providers
  • Peace Coalition of Monterey County
  • Point Lobos State Reserve, docent for 29 years
  • Big Sur Land Trust Board member
  • Board member and president Monterey County AIDS Project
  • Board member The World Affairs Council of Monterey
  • Board member and chair of National Veterans for Peace (president 1997–2000)
  • Community Advisory Committee, California Department of Corrections, Soledad Prison / Training Facility
  • President and Founder of the Management Institute of Monterey
  • Ombudsman for Long Term Care
  • Commissioner and Chair of the Community Action Council of Monterey county

Writings by Phillip Butler[edit]

  • From Nationalist to Humanist. The Humanist Magazine March/April 1986 Vol 46, pp 23–32
  • AIDS awareness ; December 13, 1992. The Monterey County Herald guest editorial p 3A
  • Why I volunteer June 1, 1996, Monterey Bay community Links
  • No Tanks in Monterey 4 July Parade: War machines in city streets sends a wrong message June 27, 1999) Monterey County Herald
  • On Torture from someone who knows. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) blog June 28, 2009[26]
  • Three Lives of a Warrior 2010 Camelot Press ISBN 9781452885032
  • Ex-Viet POW Phil Butler on "3 Lives of a Warrior" Peter B Collins show October 19, 2010, PBC broadcast.[27]
  • A Vietnam War POW takes America to task over its treatment of a Taliban POW. July 3, 2014. Monterey County Weekly.[28]
  • Prisoner Swap re Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl 20 July 2014 Monterey County Weekly[28]
  • A Gathering Storm Veterans for Peace newsletter January 5, 2017[29]



  1. ^ a b Hubbell, John G. (1976). P.O.W. : a definitive history of the American prisoner-of-war experience in Vietnam, 1964–1973. Jones, Andrew, 1921–, Tomlinson, Kenneth Y. New York: Reader's Digest Press. ISBN 0883490919. OCLC 1991209.
  2. ^ a b c Rochester, Stuart; Kiley, Frederick T (2013). Honor Bound: Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961–1973. Annapolis, Maryland: US Naval Institute Press. ISBN 9781557506948.
  3. ^ Rochester, Stuart (1999). Honor bound : American prisoners of war in Southeast Asia, 1961–1973. Kiley, Frederick T. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. pp. 101–120. ISBN 1557506949. OCLC 39706922.
  4. ^ a b Stanley, Tim (September 1, 2019). "Ex-POW from Tulsa among military Hall of Fame inductees". Tulsa World. Archived from the original on September 14, 2019. Retrieved September 23, 2019.
  5. ^ Wood, Tom (March 17, 1973). "Cheers Welcome Navy POW home". Tulsa World.
  6. ^ a b c d Tulsa Pilot is Killed by Reds in Viet Nam. Tulsa Tribune April 21, 1965.
  7. ^ a b c d "Tulsa Pilot Missing in Viet Nam combat" headline Tulsa Daily World April 22, 1965
  8. ^ a b c d e Ryce, Walter (Dec 2, 2010). "One man's war and peace". Monterey County Weekly. 688 Williams Ave, ,Seaside CA 93955. Archived from the original on May 12, 2019. Retrieved May 12, 2019.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  9. ^ "California Newspapers Unite to Nip New Russian Propaganda in the Bud" headline in Lemoore Advance newspaper June 17, 1965 no 24 photo of Phil Butler
  10. ^ a b Rochester, Stuart I., 1945– (2010). The battle behind bars : Navy and Marine POWs in the Vietnam War. Naval History & Heritage Command (U.S.). Washington, DC: Naval History & Heritage Command, Dept. of the Navy. ISBN 9780945274612. OCLC 458583708.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Stanley, Tim (September 21, 2018). "Tulsa Native not Forgotten: Naval aviator recounts being one of history's longest prisoners of war". Tulsa World. Archived from the original on 21 September 2018. Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  12. ^ Stockstill, Lewis R (October 1969). "A Special Report on POW's: The forgotten Americans of the Vietnam War". Air Force and Space Digest: The Magazine of Aerospace Power.
  13. ^ Butler, Phillip N (March 22, 1979). "US National Archives and Records". US National Archives and Records Administration. Archived from the original on September 20, 2011. Retrieved May 20, 2019 – via {{cite web}}: External link in |via= (help)
  14. ^ Rochester, Stuart I., 1945– (1999). Honor bound : American prisoners of war in Southeast Asia, 1961–1973. Kiley, Frederick T. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557506949. OCLC 39706922.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Townley, Alvin. (2014-02-04). Defiant : the POWs who endured Vietnam's most infamous prison, the women who fought for them, and the one who never returned (First edition : February 2014 ed.). New York. ISBN 9781250006530. OCLC 862575088.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  16. ^ Return with honor, Hanks, Tom., Mock, Freida Lee., Sanders, Terry., Wiser, Christine Zurbach., American Film Foundation., Sanders & Mock Productions., PBS, 2001, ISBN 0780634292, OCLC 48583518{{citation}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  17. ^ Trinh, Nguyen Quy (2004). Collected Party Documents vol 30 1969: Treatment of American POW's in North Vietnam Politburo Resolution No 194-NQ-TW 20 November 1969. Hanoi, Vietnam: Hanoi National Political Publishing House. pp. 303–305. Archived from the original on 22 June 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  18. ^ Rochester, Stuart I., 1945– (1999). Honor bound : American prisoners of war in Southeast Asia, 1961–1973. Kiley, Frederick T. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557506949. OCLC 39706922.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  19. ^ Resolution honoring Phillip Butler as a Monterey County Military and Veterans Services Advisory Commission's "Veteran of the Year" for 2018. file CR 18–150 , Monterey County California Board of Supervisors resolution October 23, 2018
  20. ^ Taylor, Dennis (2019-12-10). "Monterey combat veteran honored for peace work". Monterey Herald. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  21. ^ Moeser, Sharon H. (February 10, 1991). "Former POW speaks of Optimism, humor at conference". Antelope Valley Press.
  22. ^ Westlake, Evelyn. (November 1988). "POW Return with Honor". Monterey Life Magazine. pp. 37–40.
  23. ^ Streeter, April (September 16, 1988). "Vietnam Veteran is now a consultant: Ex POW's work involves advising others in management principles". The Salinas Californian. p. 3A.
  24. ^ Demmon, Calvin (August 15, 1986). "One Way to Learn How to be Happy". The Herald.
  25. ^ Allen, Michael J (2009). Until the Last Man Comes Home: POW's, MIAs and the unending Vietnam War. Chapel Hill, North Carolina USA: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 301–302. ISBN 9780807832615.
  26. ^ "On Torture, From Someone Who Knows". American Civil Liberties Union. 26 June 2009. Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  27. ^ Collins, Peter B (19 October 2010). "Ex Vietnam POW Phil Bulter on 3 Lives of a Warrior". Archived from the original on 11 October 2019. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  28. ^ a b Butler, Phil (3 July 2014). "A Vietnam War POW takes America to task over its treatment of a Taliban POW". Monterey County Weekly. Archived from the original on 1 October 2019. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  29. ^ Butler, Phillip (January 5, 2017). "A Gathering Storm". Peace in Our Times. Veterans for Peace, St Louis, MO. Retrieved June 22, 2019.[permanent dead link]