NEAR WELLSVILLE, Kan. -- He was the first soldier from Kansas killed in the Iraq war. And 10 years after his death, fellow soldiers and family gathered to pay tribute to Sgt. Jacob Butler's sacrifice.
"You can't forget your friends," said Brandon Scanlon, who served with Butler. "Your soldiers, you can't forget these guys."
Scanlon is one of many former soldiers who came from all around the nation to remember Butler, who was 24 when he was killed in action.
For those who knew him, Butler was just a regular guy. Not much different than any of the other men with whom he served. And that may explain why so many showed up at a tiny cemetery in rural Kansas to honor a man that easily could have been any one of them.
Butler's friend, Scanlon, was the only survivor on a truck in a convoy that came under attack by rocket propelled grenades 10 years ago on April 1.
"It doesn't matter if you support the war, or you are against the war," Scanlon explained. "We were out there doing a job. We were out there doing the jobs that not many people can do. So everybody here can do whatever they want to do in America. I love it. I love America. Freedom. I put my life out there so we can have it. Thankfully I still have my life and my freedom thanks to men like Jake Butler."
For Butler's family, they may have lost a loved one, but in the years since they have gained a large extended family of Jake's former military comrades. And his parents say that's made them prouder of their son and what it means to be an American.
"We agreed in the beginning, (Jake's mother) Cindy and I, that we did not want him to be mourned," said James Butler, Jake's father. "But we wanted to be able to celebrate what he has given to us as a family. These other guys, what they've also been able to give to us. It's deeply, deeply appreciated."
As part of the celebration, friends and family drank beer, and poured some on Butler's grave as a way of sharing it with him. His dad says Jake would have appreciated it. Those in attendance say they will never forget Jacob Butler's sacrifice. And they say neither should anyone in our nation.
Sgt. Butler has been honored by the United States with a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star.