At age 100, Sargent Victor Butler is one of the last original Tuskegee Airmen still living. He assumed he would pass the one century milestone quietly with a few visits and cards from his family and friends. His granddaughter had other ideas, and this is where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft enters the story.
Butler’s Granddaughter Reaches Out on Social Media
A few months before the big day, Butler’s granddaughter launched a social media campaign to let people know about her grandfather’s 100th birthday. She felt the attention was appropriate considering Victor Butler’s connection to the Tuskegee Airmen and the fact that he is a long-time resident of the New England area. The turnout was more than she could have imagined.
Tens of thousands of people sent Butler birthday cards in the mail, and hundreds more formed their own parade and traveled past his residence. Some even stopped to give Butler their well wishes in person. Several politicians were among the group who honored Butler at his home.
Robert Kraft and Joe Cordona Give Butler a Gift to Remember
Now 81 years old, Robert has witnessed racial segregation and other social ills that the Tuskegee Airmen fought hard to overcome. He wanted to show his appreciation to Butler for doing what is right for the country, sometimes at great cost to himself. Together with Joe Cordona, current long snapper of the Patriots, Kraft presented Butler with a customized football jersey bearing the number 100 and the signatures of all current team members.
Robert Kraft reflected on how Victor Butler voluntarily joined the segregated military to defend a country that did not grant African-Americans equal rights at that time. Butler was part of the 332nd Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Forces. The 332nd Fighter Group was the first one made up entirely of black support personnel and aviators.
Jim Crow laws were still in place when Butler joined the military. He was subject to strict standards when joining the fighter group and continued to have to meet those standards to remain in the military. The result was that he and his fellow group members were among the most elite and physically fit airmen in the Army Air Forces.
Joe Cardona also had high praise for Butler. He called him one of the greatest men who represented one of the greatest generations in American history. The long snapper of the Patriots, who also serves in the Navy Reserves as a lieutenant, stated that he did not make these remarks lightly.
Cardona also reflected on the courage it took to be a black American in the United States military when so much segregation was still in place. Cardona ended his remarks by saying that having the opportunity to celebrate a man like Victor Butler in person is the highlight of his career with the New England Patriots.
Butler and the 332nd Fighter Group earned more than 150 Distinguished Flying Cross awards, despite the racial discrimination they continually faced. Their group helped pave the way for the eventual desegregation of the United States military in 1948 under an executive order signed by President Harry S. Truman.
Butler Family Expresses Appreciation to Robert Kraft
Never one to draw attention to himself, Butler lived a quiet life after returning home from military service in World War II. He was a business owner, husband, and father of four children.
One of those children, Gary Butler, remarked that it was quite an event to have Kraft come to North Providence, Rhode Island to wish his father a happy 100th birthday in person. Butler remained humble throughout the event, even when Mayor Charles Lombardi declared his birthday as Victor Butler Day in North Providence.
Serving the Community is Nothing New for Kraft
After serving for decades as CEO of the Kraft Group, Robert Kraft spends most of his time outside of his duties with the New England Patriots involved in community philanthropy. He and his family are among the most generous donors in the New England area, having pledged more than $500 million to various charities.
Kraft is especially interested in social justice issues. His interest in improving race relations prompted him to travel to North Providence to meet Victor Butler in person. Kraft knew exactly the right gift to present to Butler as soon as he learned of the former Tuskegee Airmen’s 100th birthday. Go to this page for more information.
Refer to https://www.patriots.com/team/front-office-roster/robert-kraft for more information.