Phil Butler was born in 1938 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was commissioned through the U.S. Naval Academy on June 7, 1961, and then reported to NAS Pensacola, Florida, for flight training. Butler trained at Pensacola, NAS Meridian, Mississippi, and NAS Kingsville, Texas, and was designated a Naval Aviator in November 1962. His first assignment was to NAS Lemoore, California, for replacement air group training, then to Attack Squadron 22 in May 1963, where he served as an A-4C Skyhawk pilot. He began flying combat missions in Southeast Asia in April 1964, off the USS Midway, and was shot down over North Vietnam while serving on his second West Pac cruise on April 20, 1965. He was immediately captured and taken as a Prisoner of War. After spending 2,855 days in captivity, LCDR Butler was released during Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized at Balboa Hospital in San Diego, California, and then attended refresher instrument flight training. CDR Butler was then given an assignment to attend graduate school at the University of California, San Diego, and then served as an HRM team leader with HRMC San Diego from June 1976 to June 1979. Capt Butler's final assignment was as a faculty member with the Navy Postgraduate School, where he served from June 1979 until his retirement from the Navy on June 30, 1981. Although his highest rank held was Captain, he reverted to Commander at retirement because he didn't have enough time in grade to make it permanent.
His 2nd Silver Star Citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. During the period May to July 1967, his captors, completely ignoring international agreements, subjected him to extreme cruelty in an attempt to obtain military information and false confessions for propaganda purposes. He effectively resisted the efforts of the North Vietnamese in spite of the hostile environment, eventually compelling them to abandon their employment of harsh treatment. Through his determination, courage, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty, he reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.