The little girl stood in the rain Wednesday, dropping the umbrella her great-grandparents made her use. Her name, Jasmine, is a tribute to the middle name of her uncle, "James," on the little granite monument that she crouched over.
The stone sits outside Rock Hill's Richmond Drive Elementary School where James learned to read, and where Jasmine will learn to read when this 3-year-old is ready for kindergarten. The school and monument are about 150 yards from the house where Jasmine goes each day to be watched and nurtured by her great-grandparents. It is the same house where James was nurtured and grew, and wanted to be a cowboy.
Jasmine's face got wet and her hair got wet and her great-grandmother dropped her umbrella and crouched next to her and both got wet. Nobody, at that moment, cared about the rain.
This 150-yard trip has been taken hundreds of times in the past five years, in all kinds of weather. It is a trip, that must be taken.
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"James," said Jasmine, pointing at the monument.
"Yes," said Cynthia Butler. "James."
"James," said the great-grandfather, Navy veteran Carlton Butler, who stood in the rain.
"James," said Carlton's sister, Gail Butler, who got wet, too.
James was always what people called him. That what his father, Carlton "Buster" Bulter, an Army veteran, called him as a kid and still does.
But the proper name for this kid born and raised in Rock Hill around the corner from Richmond Drive school was Kenneth James Butler. His nickname was "Cowboy." He joined the Marines out of high school and he was promoted in Iraq to lance corporal on Oct. 1, 2005, after just two months and three commendations from battle. On Oct. 21, five years ago today, at age 19, Butler and the other Marines he was with in a Humvee were blown apart by a bomb.
That is why this trip to this monument must be made, so often, from around the corner. The family decorates the monument with pumpkins for Halloween, ribbons for Easter, and flowers at other times.
"When it doesn't rain for weeks or months, I bring water myself and water this tree so it can thrive," said Carlton Butler of the cherry tree planted by Richmond Drive staff and kids. They planted it five years ago on Veterans Day in November when the stone marker was dedicated.
James's brother, Carl went a couple weeks ago to Salisbury, N.C. to visit his brother's grave. Carl is Jasmine's father, and named his daughter in honor of his dead brother. He knew the five-year anniversary of James's death was coming.
"We all know," Carl said.
Saturday in Greensboro, N.C., there will be a ceremony honoring the families of those troops who are overseas now, and those who have died.
The Butlers will be there.
They will see the families of some of the other Marines who died that same day in 2005.
"Nothing will bring James back, but you have to honor who he was and what he did," said Carlton Butler, the grandfather.
Cynthia Butler, the grandmother, will be there to get a gold star. Blue stars are for the family of the living. Gold stars are for the dead.
"James earned his gold star," said Cynthia.
There was no out-loud prayer Wednesday, no tears.
No talk of whether wars started by politicians and fought by teenaged kids raised in Rock Hill are right or wrong.
Carlton Butler and his wife of 53 years just went to the spot 150 yards from their home and took their great-granddaughter named for James.
They went in the rain because they must go.
Cynthia wiped grass clippings from the stone.
They wished the kid nicknamed "Cowboy" was there with them instead of honored on a rock.
And they heard Jasmine say about the uncle she never met - "James."