Of Men and Angels

For he will give his angels charge over thee, To keep thee in all thy ways. –Psalm 91:11

MacButlerI met Mac in 1989.  I had just accepted a new pastorate in Ottawa, Illinois, when Mac introduced himself to me as one of my new “sheep”.  He was then 79 years old and I was 38. Over the course of the next few years, I came to know Mac as one of the most remarkable men I had ever met.  A man’s man, Mac was a true hero of the Second World War. He could be crusty and abrupt on the outside; but close friends discovered a remarkable tenderness underneath. Over the years, I came to love him.

 He came from a remarkable military legacy: his great grandfather was a Major General in the Civil War fighting with Grant in the Battle of Vicksburg.  His Grandfather, a Brigadier General, won the Congressional Medal of Honor, fighting the Indians in Montana in the 1870’s.

 Mac had attended West Point in the early years of the Great Depression and had returned to Illinois where he was a Captain in the Illinois National Guard when the war began. Having completed The US Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Mac was promoted to Major and given command of the 3rd Battalion, 395 Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division. He and his men were sent to the front lines in November, 1944, holding the small town of Höfen, Germany, against the Germans, who were dug-in little more than a mile to the east.

 In mid-December, 1944, Hitler launched what would be known as “The Battle of the Bulge”: a winter offensive through the Ardennes utilizing over 500,000 German soldiers and 450 tanks against a much smaller Allied force. Indeed, Mac’s battalion was outnumbered 5 to 1 by the Germans. On the morning of 16 December, 1944, at 0400 hrs., the Germans began the battle with an overwhelming artillery barrage. The battle would continue through Christmas and into January, 1945, with the allies eventually pushing back the German forces and gaining the offensive to the Rhine that spring.

Mac’s men (600 riflemen) held their position throughout the battle. Against a force of over 5000 Germans, the men of the 3rd Battalion, 395th Infantry Regiment, repeatedly pushed the Germans back and did not budge. Indeed, Mac’s battalion (and the other 3 battalions of the 395th) became known as “the hinge of the bulge” and his men earned the title: “Butler’s Battlin’ Blue Bastards”.

In the years I was privileged to know Mac, he told me the stories. Over coffee together, often for hours, he would recount the desperate battles; how the Germans had breached his lines that terrible winter (4 separate times!) and his men (and even he!) were forced into hand-to-hand combat. He recounted how he had been forced to call in artillery on his own positions in a desperate attempt to force the German’s back. Because I was his pastor, he sought forgiveness for the things he had to do in the war some 45 years earlier. Always, I assured him that,

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” –Psalm 103:8.

I told him how Jesus said,

All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away”.-John 6:37.

 I assured him of the grace and forgiveness all of us have in Christ. Mac would listen quietly, and with his eyes downcast, simply nod.  I believe Mac came to know Christ as his Savior.

Indeed, one evening after a bible study on the subject of “angels”, Mac waited for everyone to leave before he asked me, “do you believe all that stuff about angels?”  “Yes I do, Mac”, I replied. Characteristically, Mac gave a deep grunt and then said, “Let me tell you a story.” We sat down together and Mac told me how, on the evening of December 16, 1944, during the midst of the battle, he heard a voice tell him to get all his men out of the headquarters building.  Immediately! “What did you do?” I asked. “I gave an order for everyone to evacuate across the street into another house that was fortified”, he replied. Within a minute of giving the order and evacuating the building, a German 88mm artillery round made a direct hit on the HHQ destroying the entire building. “Was that an angel?” he asked me.

“Sure was, Mac”, I replied. We then talked about some of the wonderful stories in the bible where God had sent angels to protect and defend his children (2 Kings 19:35; 2 Chronicles 32: 20-22; & Isaiah 37: 36). Mac then said, “There’s more.” He told me that on 4 separate occasions, from January, 1945 until May, 1945, the same voice (angel) had spoken to him before battle and instructed him where to send his men; what direction he was to avoid; and where he would find the best advantage for battle.  On every occasion Mac had listened to and obeyed the counsel of the angel with the result of minimal American causalities and large numbers of German prisoners taken.  “And this was an angel?” he asked. “Yes it was, Mac”, I replied.

                           For he will give his angels charge over thee, To keep thee in all thy ways. –Psalm 91:11

It was my privilege and duty to remind this wonderful older man of how great is our God! It was my joy to remind him that not only did God love him and die for his sins through Jesus Christ, but that He had even guided and protected him during the terrible days of combat when Mac commanded his men. I told him that God was leading him still in his life, because He is a God of infinite love and mercy! Mac, as always, would hang his head, and simply nod.

In October, 2001, Mac went to be with the Lord and to be with his beloved wife Madge. During the last month of his life, he was glued to the television, watching with intensity the events that unfolded after 9-11.  He told his daughter, “You have no idea what’s coming upon our nation”. Indeed, he wished he were younger that he might again don his uniform and defend the nation he loved.  But that task was for younger men.

Mac was a man that changed my life in many ways and I was blessed to have known him.  I learned from him:

  • A leader can’t seek to please people; he has to obey his commanders (God) and do what is right.
  • There is a time a man has to stand up and oppose injustice and evil.
  • Leadership isn’t about popularity…it’s about what’s right and wrong.
  • And finally, God sends his angels to protect and defend his own.

Mac never returned to that small town in Germany, where he and his men heroically denied the Germans access to the system of roads that would have led them to Antwerp and beyond.  But I did. In August of 2013, my wife and I returned to Höfen, Germany to pay respects to my friend
Mac Butler.  We walked the battlefield: studying the maps I had researched and reproduced; noting where

he would have placed his 3 inch cannon and 50 cal. machine guns; visiting where his artillery observer was located; and seeing where his men were dug in. But above all, it was a visit to a place where, like other places, God had mercifully intervened to protect and save those he loved! Rest in Peace Dear Friend!

Wayne KirkWayneMemorial

CH (Colonel) USAR (Retired)

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One Response to Of Men and Angels

  1. Denise Goodbred Weik October 10, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    Chaplin Kirk,
    What a beautiful story and to be able to visit the site must have been so moving. I hope you get the emails I have sent you. If you could send us a prayer to read at the reunion of the 2/340th on Nov 2d 2013. We would be grateful. I miss your wise coucil. Hope all is well with you and yours.
    Denise

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