Col. Paul's Story

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MARCO ISLAND, FL: Colonel Paul M. Butman, USAF, Ret., 98, a longtime summer resident of Rockport, passed away peacefully Tuesday, February 17, 2016, at his winter residence on Marco Island, Fla.

Born in Newton on January 21, 1918, he was the son of the late Elmer and Harriet Butman. Raised in Waltham, he graduated from Waltham High School in 1935 and did a post-graduate year at Phillips Exeter Academy before attending MIT where he graduated with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1940. He met his wife, Elinor, in high school where they attended the junior prom together and continued their courtship while he attended MIT and she attended Simmons College. They were married in 1941 and celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary last April before Elinor passed away in July.

Paul had a long and distinguished career in the Air Force that included a number of important assignments over 30 years. As a test pilot and flying instructor, he had the opportunity to test many of the early fighter and bomber aircraft used by the Army Air Corps in World War II. During the war, he served as Chief of Flight Test in the Philippines, commanding a group of pilots that tested aircraft that were assembled, fitted and flown in the Pacific Theater. After the war, he was selected to be among the first pilots to be sent to Princeton University for graduate study in aeronautical sciences where he received his Masters degree in 1947. He subsequently went on to serve as Chief, Instrumentation Section, of the Flight Test Division of the Air Force at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio.

Probably his most important assignment followed in the early 1950s when he was assigned to the Division of Military Application (DMA) within the Atomic Energy Commission. Working in conjunction with the Los Alamos Laboratory, DMA was responsible for the development of thermo-nuclear weapons. As a representative of the Air Force, his specific responsibilities centered on determining the best method for delivering a hydrogen bomb to its target. In this capacity, he played an instrumental role in the decision to eventually adopt a solid fuel technology for use in the hydrogen bomb despite arguments to the contrary by others. In a controversial memo to his boss referred to by his peers as “Butman’s Bomb,” he laid out the argument for pursuing the solid versus liquid fuel approach based on the difficulties of flying a “wet” bomb to a distant target in a B-47 bomber. Subsequently, another program was funded to build a dry fusion bomb and it was successful. s a result, plans to build a wet bomb were scrapped.

In the later part of his career, Col. Butman was stationed at the Pentagon and Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland where he participated in various research and engineering capacities for the Air Force Systems Command. In 1966, he was diagnosed with cancer and retired. Remarkably, after a number of surgeries and rigorous radiation treatments, he defied all odds and enjoyed almost 50 years in retirement cancer free.

Paul truly loved summering in Rockport. In particular, he relished his time spent on Long Beach where he owned a cottage for over 70 years. He first came to Long Beach as a young boy in the 1920s. For 90 consecutive years he returned to the beach every summer no matter where he was stationed because he considered it his only permanent home. To the delight of many and the consternation of a few, he would often buzz the beach in a B-29 bomber to let Elinor know that he had arrived. Over the years, he became a fixture on the front porch of his cottage where he held court at high noon every day, often enjoying a Long Beach hot dog and sharing a beer with Elinor. For better or worse, everyone on the beach knew “The Colonel.” He was one of a dying breed who said whatever he thought without filter or apology. His political incorrectness knew no bounds nor did his opinions; but he was a man of integrity and endless generosity.

Following his retirement, Paul took up genealogy and traced his roots back ten generations. In the process he unearthed stories of pilgrims, pirates and witches that he was always eager to share with his nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Family was always the most important part of his life. He delighted in treating family and friends to lobster dinners and there was always an endless supply of candy, ice cream and watermelon for the kids. Everyone knew where to go for a ‘treat’ whether it came in a can or a candy wrapper.

Like all good engineers, he also kept busy with a host of projects around the house. There was nothing he couldn’t do – roofing, siding, electrical, plumbing. A renaissance man, he also wrote poetry. To keep his mind sharp, he loved to play chess, even if it meant competing against his grandchildren or the Boston Globe. And, of course, there was always time to sneak in a round of golf with his longtime beach buddies or watch his favorite teams, the Patriots and Red Sox.

Paul is survived by his four children, daughter, Karen L. Ressetar and her husband, J.P. of Castle Rock, Colo.; daughter, Dianne B. Meeker and her husband, Edmund of Rockport; son, Paul M. Butman Jr. and his wife, Sharon Lake of Gloucester; and son, Robert E. Butman and his wife, Joan of New Canaan, Conn.

Paul’s funeral will be a private family service at Mt. Feake Cemetery in Waltham, Mass. There will be a celebration of his life this summer in late July or early August with a luncheon in his honor at Bass Rocks Golf Club. All friends will be welcome. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the MIT AeroAstro Development Fund (#3830800) at giving.mit.edu or the charity of your choice. Arrangements are by the Greely Funeral Home, 212 Washington Street, Gloucester. For online condolences, please visit www.greelyfuneralhome.com.
Published on  February 22, 2016
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