Butterbean by Erma Todd

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SUMMARY: Military man to the end

Butterbean the Fighting Marine

"Mess with the best and die like the rest" That's about all you ever heard Butterbean say. The neighborhood kids taunted him. They laughed at him for standing at attention every time he saw the American flag. Even if that flag was on the antenna of a passing car he always saluted. I don't know where the name Butterbean came from, that's what all the kids called him. I guess it didn't matter much what you called him he wasn't going to answer you anyway. He was one of the forgotten people that pushed their belongings around in a shopping cart pilfered from some grocery store parking lot. Butterbean had a dog to keep him company, and you never saw one without the other.

The thing I remember most about this man was his military boots. He must have been very proud of his boots they looked as if he had just finished spit shining them all the time. He had lanky, long brown hair pulled back in a pony tail. He wore an old greasy cap that said US Marines on it. He was never clean. His hands were dirty, and he smelled so bad you couldn't stand behind him in a line. He was probably about the same age as me, so I guessed from his boots and the way he saluted his flag that he had been a Marine in Viet Nam. I stopped one day and asked him if he had served in Viet Nam? "Mam, yes Mam," he yelled, and saluted.

I asked him several times if he were hungry but, he would never answer me. Some people want to be left alone. He never bothered anyone or caused problems in the neighborhood. It really bothered me that a person who had put their life on the line for the rest of us was homeless, maybe hungry and alone. It didn't seem right, but it was plain that he didn't want my help. Maybe he has people somewhere that don't know he made it back from the war I thought, or maybe they didn't care. He was always around. I never went out side that I didn't see him and that old dog on the move, going to, or coming back from somewhere.

One Sunday morning we were watching the news. They were talking about a three alarm fire that happened in the night. The house had burned to the ground and one child had died in the fire. They were interviewing the neighbor who had called the fire department. She told them about a man who went into the fire, and came out with two small children. He had gone back in a second time but hadn't come out. "For some reason he took his boots off before he went in after those children" she said. The camera panned the area she was pointing to. In the distance I saw a full shopping cart with a pair spit shined military boots sitting on the top of it. There beside the cart was Butterbean's dog, waiting patiently for his master who was never coming back.

Everyone was talking about the man who saved the lives of those children, and what a hero he was. He went into that fire not once, but twice to save those kids. I searched the newspapers for days looking for his name. The papers called him a homeless man known only as Butterbean. There was one piece about the dog though, he was adopted by a family who saw the newscast and felt sorry for him. I miss seeing the two of them. Our neighborhood will never be the same, whenever I see a flag, or hear the word hero, I always think of Butterbean.