Phillip Neal Butler

Inducted 2019

Phillip Neal Butler

Captain Phillip Neal Butler was born 11 August 1938 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A 1956 graduate of Will Rogers High School, he enrolled for one year in Naval ROTC at the University of Oklahoma, graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1961, and was designated a Naval Aviator, flying A-4C Skyhawk attack aircraft.

On 4 March 1965, Butler deployed to Southeast Asia aboard the USS Midway. On 20 April 1965, during his thirteenth bombing mission over North Vietnam, his A-4C Skyhawk exploded due to a bomb malfunction. After ejecting, he successfully evaded the enemy searchers for four days after which he was captured, becoming the eighth longest-held prisoner of war, 2,855 days, with confinement in ten different North Vietnamese prisons including the infamous Hanoi Hilton. Butler and other American POWs endured cruel and inhumane treatment by their captors. In his 2010 autobiography, Three Lives of a Warrior, Butler chronicled details of the constant excruciating torture, squalid living conditions, malnutrition, lack of medical care, and isolation. Butler consistently resisted the enemy’s attempts to extract information, force him to sign false confessions, and betray his fellow prisoners and country.

On 12 February 1973, Butler was released as part of Operation Homecoming. His service awards include two Silver Star Medals for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity, two awards of the Legion of Merit with Combat “V,” two awards of the Bronze Star with Combat “V,” and two Purple Hearts, among others. After earning his PhD in Sociology and serving as faculty at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, Butler retired in 1981. With the war years behind him, Butler says the captivity taught him "lessons in perseverance, teamwork, friendship, self-exploration, and keeping a sense of humor and optimism." Today, Butler lives in California and actively serves his community in peace and justice activities, environmental and quality-of-life non-profit organizations.