Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Tony Butterfield, 19, Clovis; Among 4 Killed in Gasoline Tanker Blast

Times Staff Writer

Not long ago, Marine Lance Cpl. Tony Butterfield sent his parents in the Central Valley city of Clovis a disposable camera that he had used to take pictures while serving in Iraq. When the pictures were developed, one stood out.

In the photo, Butterfield faced the camera in front of the most barren of landscapes in the Iraqi desert. But the preternaturally upbeat Marine wore a huge grin and carried a handwritten sign that read: “Hi, Everyone. Welcome to Paradise.”

“Wherever he was,” said his mother, Robin, “he was always trying to make somebody laugh.”

Butterfield, 19, was killed July 29 in Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad, along with three other Marines “while conducting combat operations,” according to the Department of Defense. He was assigned to the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

In an e-mail to his own family that was shared with The Times, another soldier in Butterfield’s unit, Pfc. Gary M. Cassen, wrote that Butterfield died while trying to prevent a suicide bomber from detonating a gasoline tanker filled with explosives. The tanker exploded, but Butterfield’s actions saved the lives of some nearby Marines, Cassen wrote.


In Butterfield’s hometown of Clovis, one memorial wasn’t enough. Students at Buchanan High School -- from which he graduated in 2005 -- organized a candlelight vigil Aug. 4 that drew more than 300 people, and his funeral Aug. 8 could not be held in his home church, New Hope Community, because it was not big enough to accommodate all the people who wanted to attend. Instead, more than 1,200 people packed into Clovis Hills Community Church.

“His blue eyes would light up a room,” family friend Dusty Estabrooke said at the funeral, according to an account in the Fresno Bee.

Butterfield was the third Buchanan High alumnus to die in the war in Iraq. Jared Hubbard and Jeremiah Baro, both Marine snipers and members of Buchanan High’s Class of 2001, were killed in Al Anbar province in November 2004.

The Butterfield family has deep roots in Clovis, a city of more than 86,000 on the outskirts of Fresno. Butterfield’s father, Tony, is a chiropractor who grew up in the area, and his mother, who teaches home economics to seventh- and eighth-graders, moved there from Fullerton as a youngster.

They raised their son in a home on two acres. The third of four children, he attended public schools and played soccer before switching to volleyball during a growth spurt -- 11 inches in one year -- that saw him reach 6 feet 4. He played on a team that won the state championship in his sophomore year, said his coach, John Jay.

Butterfield was a motorcycle enthusiast who went for long rides into the Sierra with his father and grandfather. A voracious eater, Butterfield revered his grandmother’s cooking -- turkey soup, mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken and noodles -- and often took food to bed as a fast-growing adolescent.

Butterfield, family and friends say, had a rare gift not only for humor but also for candor. At the age of 11, he approached a fire marshal -- without prompting -- to take responsibility for a blaze started by fireworks in a nearby field. If he transgressed at school, he didn’t argue; instead he asked politely what the punishment would be.

Butterfield was popular, but kind to those who weren’t. He stayed on good terms even with former girlfriends. Friends trusted him with their problems. “His phone would ring off the hook,” said lifelong friend David Davis, 19. “When he went to boot camp, I got to use his phone. I honestly didn’t want that phone because it would not stop ringing.”

Not always a strong student in school, Butterfield nevertheless took a serious interest in history and often wrestled with his siblings and parents for the TV remote so he could watch the History Channel. He enjoyed biographies and military stories. In addition to a career in the Marine Corps, he talked of becoming a police officer or history teacher.

When he was 17, Butterfield approached a military recruiter on his own during his junior year in high school. To reassure his parents, he invited the recruiter to the family home. “By the time the recruiter left that night, we had given him permission,” his father said. “Tony was so adamant and positive.”

Butterfield joined the Marines last summer and deployed to Iraq in March. He often asked his mother to send him things -- dozens of ChapStick lip balms, Jolly Rancher hard candies -- so he could hand them out to Iraqi children.

In addition to his parents, Butterfield is survived by a brother, Jeremy of Clovis; two sisters, Bailey Butterfield of Clovis and Britney Hunt of Fresno; and his brother-in-law, Glen Hunt. The family asks that any donations in his memory be sent to the Wish Upon a Star Foundation, P.O. Box 4000, Visalia, CA 93278.

At Butterfield’s funeral, the Rev. Tim McLain Rolen described a scene from Butterfield’s favorite movie, “Hook,” a 1991 updating of the Peter Pan story starring Robin Williams. “Tony wanted pixie dust when he saw that movie,” his mother said, “and he was so disappointed when it didn’t make him fly.”



War casualties

Total U.S. deaths* as of Friday:

* In and around Iraq: 2,607

* In and around Afghanistan: 267

* Other locations: 56

Source: Department of Defense* Includes military and Department of Defense-employed civilian personnel killed in action and in nonhostile circumstances