Three Lives of a Warrior by Phillip Butler

Retired Navy Captain Phillip Butler (USNA, ’61) divides his life into three phases (learning to be a warrior, serving in the Vietnam War, and making the transition to life after coming home) in his long, readable memoir, Three Lives of a Warrior (Camelot Press, 513 pp., $24.95, paper). The bulk of the book is the section on life number two, which contains details on the nearly eight years Butler was held as a POW, from April 1965 to February 1973.

Butler, who is 71, grew up in Oklahoma, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, and trained as a naval aviator. Two years after earning his wings, Butler was shipped to the aircraft carrier Midway in April of 1965 and flew a dozen missions over North Vietnam as an A4 Skyhawk attack-fighter jet pilot. On the next mission, a night bombing run over Highway One, his plane’s bombs exploded, and Butler barely escaped with his life.

He ejected, made it safely to the ground, and managed to escape into Laos. Four days later, the NVA captured him. Butler details what happened to him at the hands of the North Vietnamese, including various forms of torture all those years. He was not freed until February 12, 1973.

Returning home, Butler says, “was a euphoric time, pasted with deep disappointments and distress. It was an emotional roller coaster.” His “family life,” he says, “was a disaster with a wife who sued for divorce and a lovely eight-year-old daughter who was trying to understand me, as I was her.”

In the early 1980s, not long after he left the Navy, Butler became a peace and social justice activist. He joined Veterans for Peace, and later served as the organization’s national board chair. Today, he chairs the Peace Coalition of Monterey County, California.

The author’s website is

—Marc Leepson