DRAPER, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) – For the first time since a Utah Special Forces soldier died in combat in Afghanistan, his dear friend and ‘godfather’ is talking about his death.
During an exclusive interview with Good4Utah’s Ali Monsen, Bud Zoll says 27 year-old Staff Sgt. Aaron Butler served more than just his country.
“We knew Aaron like so many others didn’t…” Zoll said. “We talk about all of this stuff about him being a great soldier, but he was a great-hearted [Latter-day] Saint,” he explained.
Zoll says the word, “heartbreak” does not begin to explain how he and his family are feeling right now.
“We’re still in denial at our house,” he said.
Zoll, his wife, his children, and grandchildren consider the fallen hero one of their own.
“I called him my godson, as a matter of fact, and we’ve been grieving very privately, because we were very close to Aaron,” he said.
Sharing a bond he says only comes through serving others, the former senior missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints got to know Butler in Ghana while they were both serving missions.
“We bonded quickly in Africa, of all places, because I’m a former US Marine Vietnam veteran,” Zoll explained.
Zoll says Butler never wanted praise and never took any credit. Instead, he says he put his head down, went to work, and in true soldier fashion, assisted everyone he met.
“I watched him help Ghanaians build their homes, I watched him carry children, I watched him feed people, I watched him carry brick and mortar and build wells… He’s a legend still in Ghana. I’ve had people call me — I’ve had missionaries call me — who are in disbelief, as we are, because we all thought Aaron, really, was invincible,” Zoll said.
He says simply accepting that Butler is gone has been the hardest part.
“There are parts of me that get mad about it because how could he let this happen?” Zoll asked. “He’s so well trained… He promised us he wouldn’t get killed,” he cried.
Officials say Wednesday, the Monticello native died in an explosion while clearing a building in Afghanistan, and battling the Islamic State.
“He died doing what he wanted to do,” Zoll said.
Now, Zoll and his family are trying to trust that their strong, Patriot soldier continues fighting evil on the other side — and that, they say, is the one thing bringing them hope.
“We know that up there in Heaven, ‘Butler’ is going to be the greatest warrior that God has ever had,” he smiled.
Staff Sgt. Butler’s family in Montecello has asked for privacy during this time. He leaves behind his parents, 8 siblings, and girlfriend of several years. The late soldier’s final resting place will be in his hometown, where family and friends plan to bury him, August 26th.