WILMINGTON, N.C. -- "We are gathered here today not to celebrate, not to recognize brick and mortar and construction, but we're here to recognize the name which it will bear." These were the words of Pastor Jim Davis in his opening invocation at the memorialization and renaming ceremony for the Sgt. Thomas J. (T.J.) Butler IV Armed Forces Reserve Center in Wilmington, N.C., on July 13.
A well-known and respected member of the Wilmington area, Butler was killed in action on October 1, 2012 in Khost, Afghanistan, when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives amid their patrol. He had deployed with the 514th Military Police Company of the North Carolina Army National Guard.
Well over 350 family members, fellow Soldiers and community members were in attendance as a number of speakers spoke about Butler's short life and the contributions and positive impact he made in his community.
Maj. Gen. Gill Beck, the commanding general of the 81st Regional Support Command, talked about the strength that comes from strong family and community. "This is a reminder and in many ways it's a celebration of the strength of our Army," he said. "Even when we have a Soldier that we lose, we can draw strength from that particular incident. We don't grow weaker but we grow stronger."
Beck encouraged the audience to use Sgt. Butler's story as encouragement as the need arises. "One of the things that we can do with regards to this memorialization; we can use this as an opportunity to gain strength for the future, so that when Soldiers come into this building they can be inspired by Sgt. Butler's example. They can know that what they are doing makes a difference, what they are doing matters."
Congressman Mike McIntyre of North Carolina's 7th District read a congressional proclamation and then presented it to Butler's widow, Holly, along with a commemorative congressional coin.
"A memorial such as this does several things," said Maj. Gen. Greg Lusk, Adjutant General for the North Carolina National Guard. "We pay tribute to a very deserving individual, one that gave the ultimate sacrifice, but in so doing we also pay tribute and recognition to so many others who unfortunately have given the ultimate sacrifice. More importantly to me, we set into place an opportunity that allows us and the future generations to reflect back on what it means to serve. They did not set out to be heroes that day."
Numerous others in T.J.'s life, fellow Soldiers, teachers, coaches and church friends, all spoke along the same theme; he was a great friend, a highly contributing member to his family, community and country who made a positive impact on everyone he met.
His squad leader, Staff Sgt. Ty Braxton said, "I don't know if he knew this, but as his squad leader, I saw that he made everyone around him better."
His team leader, Sgt. Kyle Snyder said, "T.J. never came across anybody he didn't like. He touched everybody in one way or another."
He had even met his wife volunteering at a homeless shelter, according to Mr. Bill Harris who is the coordinator of a downtown ministry that helps needy people in Wilmington. Harris said that people at the ministry also know T.J.'s legacy of service.
When T.J.'s mother, Leslie Butler, stood to speak, she thanked her new Army family and said, "We all came here for the same reason, to gather more memories of T.J. and when I see you I see him. I see T.J. in every one of your faces."
"He was family to everyone at the 514th, just as he was to us," said Robin van Houten, T.J.'s aunt. "He was a hero. My T-man was a hero to everyone in the United States, not just here in Wilmington."
The Wilmington facility is home to Army Reserve Soldiers and Navy Reserve Sailors who will all know of a young man's sacrifice.
"It kind of makes them timeless," Lusk added. "It freezes them in time. That picture of Thomas Butler here in this facility, it will be the face that it was last year, and it will be that way for many decades."
"It's just surreal to know that other people will be saying my son's name," Leslie said. "It's just an honor."
Whenever anyone working at the center answers their phone, they will say the new name of the building and that remembrance is all Leslie says she can ask for. "Say my baby's name." She feels that whenever her son's name is spoken, he will not really be gone.