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Walt Butler named state 'Legionnaire of the Year
Walt Butler, considered to be the cornerstone of the American Legion Post 491 in Ceres, was named "Legionnaire of the Year" for the state of California. The honor came at the California State Convention in Riverside on June 19.

"I wasn't expecting it," said Butler. "There were about six other names submitted for the honor."

Butler's life has been wrapped around the mission of the American Legion since he joined in 1988. He got involved as a result of an effort to build the War Memorial at Whitmore Park.

"It's a stand-up organization that does a lot for veterans," said Butler.

Butler has been commander of the Ceres post for 11 years. Butler recently wanted to become more involved in the district and state Legion, but after no one came forward to take the commander's position Butler stepped up for the 11th time.

"Without this type of dedication to the American Legion and the local Legion community, the Ceres Post would not continue to be as strong and involved as it is today," said Steven Whitney, the post's Finance Officer.

A Vietnam War era veteran, Butler has been one to serve. He was given the job of adjutant and finance officer of the post when he first joined. In 1994 he became the commander, which he held until 2004. Also during that period, Butler served several positions in District 12 chairs and served as District Commander in 2004. In 2008 he again served as commander and is currently serving a second term as District 12 commander.

He has held other posts in the Legion, including Boys State Chairperson, Fund Raising Chairperson, Law & Order Chairperson, and Honor Guard Captain. He's enjoyed his work in sending local teens to the Sacramento based Boys' State as "most rewarding because you get to deal with some youth who have the potential to be very outstanding citizens as they grow up."

Butler was instrumental in bringing the Vietnam Moving Wall to Ceres during two separate years. Butler has coordinated membership drives, school awards, and countless flag dedications and ceremonies. Butler has represented the Post and the Legion at numerous local civic events, including City Council meetings, and history classes at local schools. Butler donates time at the local blood bank and also serves on the local Congressman's Veterans' Council.

As commander, Butler oversees a post of about 200 members, of which about 12 to 20 show up for meetings on the first Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Ceres American Legion Memorial Building. Anyone who served in the U.S. military during a time of war may join. Congress opened up membership to anyone who has served since Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

The post recently started a Sons of the American Legion (SAL) for the sons and grandsons of veterans eligible for the American Legion.

Born in Modesto in 1947, Walt grew up in Ceres and in the summer of 196 joined the Naval Reserve Unit in Modesto. In 1965 the Navy sent Walt to an "A" school to be a postal clerk. In 1966 Walt reported for active duty to Treasure Island. He then served aboard the USS Hornet for two years as a postal clerk. In 1966 the Hornet participated in the first West Coast recovery of an unmanned Apollo capsule, which led to the recovery of the Apollo 11. In 1967 Butler participated in the nine-month WestPac Cruise with many interesting ports-of-calls. Walt launched off the ship deck in the C-1A on two occasions, and tail hooked on board once.

In 1969 Walt joined the Ceres Volunteer Fire Department where he served for 21 years and rose to the rank of assistant chief. In 1974 Walt went to work for the U.S. Postal Service and worked for 30 years retiring in January 2004. He and his wife Pat have two children, Jerry and Autumn.