Hercules “Chico” Butler is known around Pittsburgh for relating to people on the dance floor clad in colorful Zoot suits hats, matching shoes and showing off his sharp dance moves.
But in actuality the 79-year-old Garfield resident can relate to people in another way: through his pain as a disabled Korean War veteran who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“People know me as the dancing, happy-go-lucky guy. They don’t know the humble, spiritual person who is loving and giving. I fought in Korea and no one knows I am a disabled veteran who suffers from severe PTSD,” said Butler who is most commonly known by his nickname, Chico.
That’s why he penned the prose-filled book, “But I Kept the Faith.”
Published by Publish America in June, “But I Kept the Faith” tells the story of how Butler says he was falsely imprisoned for 16 years for a murder he didn’t commit.
He says he wrote the manuscript in poetry form because the writing method was like meditation that helped him get through his years of loneliness, isolation and anger while in prison.
“God made it possible for me to write this book so that hopefully I can help lots of people through my experiences,” he said. “I can relate to the veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan or any war. I understand their pain because I am one of them.”
“There was no diagnosis for PTSD at that time and I was a walking time bomb. I was in a lot of guilt and shame because of my encounters on the battlefield. I couldn’t communicate with people once I came home because you were taught not to talk about it,” Butler said. “While I was in Korea, I was with an all-White outfit the 45th Division out of Oklahoma and they were very prejudice. During lulls in fighting, they would tell racial jokes like it was nothing. I was one of the first machine gunnists’ who integrated the unit.”
Butler enlisted into the United States Army at the insistence of friends who readily joined the service. During his years in Korea—1951-1954—Butler saw the majority of those friends get killed or injured in battle.
“I couldn’t deal with that and the army discharged me saying that I had a personality disorder,” he said.
Butler was awarded the Korean Service Medal with three bronze stars and an infantry badge.
Following his discharge, Butler returned to his hometown of Coatesville, PA and began working as an entertainer who became well-known for his Afro-Cuban dances and Spanish songs.
During the summer of 1956, Butler’s life took a drastic turn when he was arrested by the Chester County Police department for robbery and murder.
“I was arrested without a warrant and held for five days and I couldn’t contact any of my family,” Butler said. “I was beaten and forced to sign a confession for a crime I didn’t do. I didn’t have a proper attorney and I was trying to figure out what happened. I felt like my Constitutional rights were violated.”
As a result, he was given a life sentence in prison. After serving 16 years in jail, Butler was released with a sentence of life on parole.
“I feel like I’m still in prison. Once a month I have to go see my parole officer and if I want to go on vacation, I have to get permission. I’ve been on parole for 40 years,” he said. “Why should I stay on parole? I’m still serving time. I am not free.”
Nonetheless, Butler finds solace from his problems through dancing at numerous dance clubs and events throughout the city of Pittsburgh and beyond.
He is currently working on a second book that will tell of his experiences in the war. He hopes to have a book signing for “But I Kept the Faith” once he is able to secure a venue to hold it in.
Butler is also interested in speaking with veterans that suffer from PTSD
“I’d like to talk to them and tell my life story because I can relate to them. I want to tell them welcome home,” Butler said.