Former Navy SEAL: Dot’s support for service members makes it a special place

Dorchester native and former US Navy Seal Stephen Butler (shown with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George) acknowledges applause after main speech. Chris Lovett photo

Stephen Butler, a former Navy SEAL and Dorchester native, was the keynote speaker at Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony in Cedar Grove Cemetery. The following are excerpts from Butler’s remarks.

I grew up right up the street from here. I went to St. Brendan’s School then Archbishop Williams High School and Framingham State College.  I have always been pretty involved in the community.  After college, I coached Dorchester Youth Hockey for a few years and was involved with Project D.E.E.P for a number of years as well.

After I graduated from college, like most people, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  I had always had the military in the back of my mind, being a Navy SEAL in particular… 

The first things people ask me is always, ‘How was the training, how did you make it through hell week?’ And for me, I’m not going to stand up here and say it was easy, but I think there is a reason that I didn’t struggle with it as much as some guys did.  You obviously have to be able to meet the physical standards and pass all of the tests. 

But it’s more than that.  It’s really the moral characteristics that they are looking for.  It’s great if you can run a 5-minute mile and swim like a fish, but if you don’t have those intangibles that they are looking for then you’re going to get weeded out. 

You have to be a team player. If the guys in your class don’t like you, then you’re not going to make it.  Work ethic, integrity, loyalty, honesty, having your buddy’s back— these are the traits that they are looking for. 

And for me, these things were instilled in me since I was a kid.  That’s just how I was raised. That’s how I grew up. Those are values that I learned from my parents, from my coaches, from my friends. I think one of the biggest things that benefited me and something you definitely needed to have is humility and thick skin.  And, good luck, growing up in Dorchester if you don’t have some thick skin, especially with my group of friends.  Hell, I fully expect to get heckled as soon as I step off this podium. 

So, while I didn’t grow up on a farm shooting guns like most guys in [my class] I could sure take some physical and mental abuse.

After I graduated from SEAL Qualification Training I was assigned to SEAL Team Four.  I did two deployments to East Africa with Team Four and I got out of the Navy and moved back home last summer.  I spent a little over 6 years in the Navy and truly enjoyed my time in the SEAL Teams. I think that it provided me the experiences and growth that I needed in my life.  I had the opportunity to serve with some great guys and create relationships that I will have for the rest of my life.  To be a part of the SEAL community is something very special.

The SEAL Teams truly are a brotherhood.  It’s an extremely tight knit group and a very unique and special part of the military.  I think one of the best things that the Teams do is remember their fallen brothers.  I can remember my first day checking into Team Four.  You know you are feeling a little high on yourself because you just made it through [training], had that coveted trident on my chest. 

Then I get to the Team Four Building and right outside the front door is a giant roman numeral 4 that was forged from the steel beams of the twin towers. And I walk in the door and the hallways are lined with plaques of all the Team 4 members that have died in combat.  Their pictures and stories are on the walls so that we remember them every day. And that humbled me real quick.  The SEAL teams have enjoyed a certain reputation and prestige over the years.  And that sure isn’t from me, I don’t expect that and I certainly don’t deserve it. That’s something that comes from those men whose stories were on those walls. I couldn’t and still can’t cast a shadow on what they sacrificed.  And that was a constant reminder to me every time I walked down those hallways.  And that’s why we are gathered here today.  To remember all those who made that sacrifice.

Today we remember and we celebrate all those who have served and sacrificed for this country. For me, I can’t stand up here and pretend to know what that means or what that feels like.  I’m sure there are people in the audience that have been through far more then I have and there are people buried in this cemetery that have sacrificed more than I can imagine.  But what I can do is try to find that common ground, the one thing that bonds past, present and future military members. 

And I think what that is, is a sense of service.  Wars change, soldiers evolve, but the one constant is that sense of service. Because all those who have served know that it’s not something we do for ourselves.  Those people didn’t fight for themselves, they didn’t sacrifice for themselves.  They fought for the people standing next to them, they fought for people that couldn’t fight, they sacrificed for their community, they sacrificed for this country.  And I think that this community embodies all the values and ideals that all those men and women sacrificed for.

And that’s what I want to focus on today.  I’ve had the opportunity during my time in the military to travel all over the country and all over the world and it has made me realize how special this community is.  Ceremonies like this don’t happen everywhere.  Most people these days use Memorial Day as an excuse for a cookout or free day off from work. But here we are taking a few hours on this day to come together to honor and celebrate the sacrifice so many Americans have made.  And I can tell you first hand that this doesn’t happen everywhere.

For me it’s always a little awkward when people thank me for my service.  I never really know how to react.  I did what I did because that’s what I wanted to do.  I fully understood what I was getting myself into.  And I don’t feel like anyone owes me anything for that.  I don’t feel entitled or special. 

But people from this community don’t seem to care about that.  The support this community has for the military is truly special and unique.  Both of my deployments were over the holidays.  That can be hard. Everyone wants to be home with their families and friends during that time.  So while you’re away, especially during the holidays, any little reminders of home are always appreciated. 

And the support I got from this community was pretty special.   Most guys would get packages from their wife’s or girlfriends every month or so.  Maybe a parent here and there.  But not me. I had stacks upon stacks in my room.  My wife had to have sent at least one a week, my family, my friends, cards from the school my wife worked at, the school my sister worked at, the Leahy Holloran Community Center, and then local Boston organizations that I’ve never even heard of...

And that wasn’t just my personal experience. I bet that every other local kid who served, no matter the branch or their rank or rate got the same support from this community that I did.  

And the support wasn’t just when I was deployed. 

When I got out of the Navy last summer and moved back home so many people reached out to me and were willing to help me with my transition.  I got phone calls and emails from people that I never even met offering to help in any way they could.  The support and respect this community has for the military is special. 

So today we come together to thank those who have served and are still with us, and we honor and remember those who are no longer with us.  I’d like to thank the people of this community for the support they have given me and all prior service members, for the support that they are giving our current service members and for the continued support I know that they will give our future service members.  So thank you and Happy Memorial Day.