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SHENANDOAH, Iowa — As he waited for the flag-draped casket to appear in Shenandoah, Don Buttry whispered his son Brandon’s favorite saying like a mantra.
Brandon grew fond of saying the line as a teenager, when he had wild hair and a mischievous smile and a dream to join the U.S. Army.
He would break it out whenever his mother, Pam Buttry, who along with Don had birthed and adopted 14 children, got a little bit overwhelmed by the jam-packed household.
“Take a deep breath,” he would say. “Just chill.”
That’s what Don Buttry recited several times to Pam as they and their 13 other children watched earlier this week as Private First Class Brandon Buttry’s casket was removed from a plane and placed inside a hearse.
That’s what he said as they followed Brandon across town, a vehicle caravan that included dozens of other family members and friends and also hundreds of Shenandoah residents who lined the sidewalks and placed their hands on their hearts.
And the line was spoken again Thursday morning, as the gigantic Buttry family fought its way through Brandon’s funeral as if riding out a storm.
The Buttrys sat in the first few pews and held onto one another. Pam Buttry clutched her husband. Brandon’s younger siblings leaned into their older brothers and sisters.
Together, the family famous in Shenandoah for studying together and traveling together as a 16-person pack did something else together.
“It’s not supposed to happen this way,” said Steve Buttry, Brandon’s uncle, reading remarks written by Don and Pam Buttry. “We don’t know how to do this. ... We do know that you would want us to take a deep breath and carry on.”
The 19-year-old Buttry died last week in southern Afghanistan, where he was pulling guard duty atop a watchtower when killed. The U.S. Army has given no other details of his death, Steve Buttry said.
Speaker after speaker at Thursday’s funeral lauded Brandon Buttry as a young man who had looked out for family and friends long before he climbed into that guard tower.
Brandon was the one who woke up family members at 4 o’clock on Christmas morning, his older brother Luke said. No one could stay mad at him, though — he had an infectious smile, several family members and fellow soldiers said. One referred to Brandon’s “outrageous chuckle.”
As a child he carried a book with him wherever he went, and at one point started to read the family’s Webster dictionary.
“Because he had read everything else in the house,” said Mandy Poulter, Brandon’s older sister.
Brandon Buttry, deeply religious, spent a lot of time in the Baptist church. He attended services, helping to lead a children’s worship group and volunteering with a program for disabled adults, Pastor Bob Ray said.
He spent just as much time with his 14 nieces and nephews, his older siblings said, telling them stories and having endless light-saber fights no matter how many times he got accidentally nailed in the shins.
From a young age, he told his parents and brothers and sisters that his dream was to join the U.S. Army. He did just that in late 2011, making it through basic training, returning home with his wild hair cut into an Army-issue high-and-tight, and then deploying to Afghanistan in July.
Macey Buttry, who like Brandon is adopted and 19 years old, wrote a letter in which she described how she and Brandon planned to take a camping trip to Colorado and fix up a classic car after he got back from Afghanistan.
You would tell me about girls you liked, she wrote. I would think that none of those girls were good enough for you, she wrote, but I would never tell you that, because I wouldn’t want you to get a big head.
Brandon Buttry was supposed to arrive home from Afghanistan on Thursday, a leave that would have allowed him to spend Thanksgiving with his family.
Instead, he is the 157th service member with ties to Nebraska or Iowa who has died in the post-Sept. 11 wars, according to newspaper records.
Instead, the Buttry family filed single-file to the front of First Baptist Church on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. One after another, they dropped roses next to his casket.
Pam Buttry got to his casket and collapsed atop it, sobbing and clutching the American flag that covered the coffin that held her son.
Most of the approximately 500 mourners packed into the First Baptist Church sobbed with her.
After the last rose was dropped, the floorboards of the church creaked as Brandon Buttry’s casket was rolled down the aisle and toward the glass front doors. The Buttry family followed behind, still clutching one another, and followed their son and brother Brandon into the afternoon sunlight.
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