Bittersweet story of two Vietnam vets, Mal Butler and Jack Grass | photos

US helicopter pilot Jack Grass has never been forgotten by Beechwood man, Mal Butler.

US helicopter pilot Jack Grass has never been forgotten by Beechwood man, Mal Butler.

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A Vietnam vet from Beechwood, who wanted to have a beer with a very special US comrade, has finally got some news, after sending out a call through the Wauchope Gazette last year.

Mal and Rosemary Butler look forward to welcoming Jack Grass's son to Australia.

Mal and Rosemary Butler look forward to welcoming Jack Grass's son to Australia.

Mal Butler was a Warrant Officer Class Two Adviser in South Vietnam in 1971, training soldiers how to ambush at night.

An enormous explosion wounded him badly on the body and head, and a Medivac helicopter, with the call sign Dustoff 88, took him to hospital.

The pilot, US Army Warrant Officer, Jack Grass, from Alabama, followed custom and left a note in Mal’s pocket to say he’d carried him to safety and offering him free drinks when he recovered.

Mal was so badly wounded that Jack wrote: “If you make it, I will buy you beer for a week.”

Mal survived, and still has Jack’s note.  Years later, while on holiday in America, he tried in vain to find his hero. Then in 1997, an American contact located the chopper pilot, and Jack and Mal began a firm friendship by letter and phone.

“Jack said the free beer was still on offer,” recalled Mal.

 “And my wife’s sister lived just 150kms from him in America.”

To me, Jack was the Number One hero. If it wasn't for him, I would not be here. - Vietnam veteran Mal Butler

But before they got the chance to meet in person, Jack bought a motor home in 2004 and headed to Florida and the two friends lost touch.

Mal asked for our help last August and we published the story.  A few weeks ago, Jack’s son, Patrick Grass, who lives in the United States, found it online on our sister paper, the Camden Haven Courier.  

Patrick wrote to us, saying he’d like to contact Mal, and relaying the sad news that his father, Jack had passed away in 2009.

We put Patrick in touch with Mal and they were both thrilled.  Mal was very sad to hear of Jack’s death and told Patrick he was honoured to be able to make contact with him.

“To me, Jack was the Number One hero.  If it wasn’t for him, I would not be here.

US war hero Jack's son, Patrick Grass, with a wooden clock made for him in Beechwood by Mal Butler, who he carried to safety in Vietnam.

US war hero Jack's son, Patrick Grass, with a wooden clock made for him in Beechwood by Mal Butler, who he carried to safety in Vietnam.

“Patrick says he’s been wondering about me, like I’d been wondering about Jack,” said Mal.

Since then, they’ve had two long telephone conversations and plan to visit each other.

“There will always be a bed for him in our house,” said Mal.

“Although Jack and I never met in person, we had talked and written to each other, and my wife’s sister and brother-in-law met him.  They gave Jack a wooden clock I made for him.  He was like part of our family.  And now, his son will be too.”

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