While the St. Clair American Legion Post 347 remembered all the military servicemen and women who have died while serving their country, the most touching moment during Monday’s local Memorial Day ceremony may have centered on a couple of individuals who still are living.
The local Legion conducted its annual holiday tribute at noon outside its facility at 215 W. Gravois Ave.
Brian Butera, a member of the St. Clair American Legion Riders, attended the ceremony in a wheelchair. Earlier this year, his left leg was amputated below the knee following an April 1 accident in which he crashed his motorcycle while riding it on the Interstate 44 North Service Road west of St. Clair.
Quick action by a fellow local Legion rider may have prevented the injury from being much worse as Brian Keller, who was riding by himself west on I-44 shortly after the 4:30 p.m. incident that Sunday almost two months ago, saw the crash scene and stopped to help.
“I wouldn’t be here without him,” Butera said of Keller when he asked to speak to the audience during the ceremony after Keller had wheeled him to the side of the podium.
The St. Clair Missourian reported in its April 4 edition that Butera was ejected from his motorcycle as he was involved in the two-vehicle crash on the service road just west of Tag-A-Long Road. According to law enforcement and other emergency responders at the scene, Butera was bleeding badly while he was lying on the roadway near his motorcycle.
Keller said he was driving by on the interstate when he saw the accident scene. He stopped, saw Butera and applied a tourniquet to the bleeding leg and helped until emergency responders arrived a few minutes later. Keller said Butera was “bleeding profusely” so he applied the tourniquet.
The injuries were listed on the Missouri Highway Patrol’s accident report as serious.
“You’re not supposed to apply a tourniquet unless it’s life or limb,” Butera said on Monday. “This was life or limb.
“Thank you, Brian Keller.”
When they arrived, St. Clair emergency personnel treated Butera until an Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter landed at the scene and the injured man was transferred into it to be flown to Mercy Hospital St. Louis. They also treated the other man involved in the crash, William E. Withington, who was driving a pickup east on the service road when the accident occurred.
At the April 1 accident site, Keller said he and Butera had been riding together earlier in the day and had just parted ways in St. Clair before he came across the accident site west of there. Until he stopped and walked to the crash scene, Keller said he did not know Butera had been involved.
Butera was lying on the road about 50 feet from his bike.
“It did not look like he (Butera) was doing very well,” Keller told The Missourian at the scene.
Emergency responders said Keller’s quick action could have prevented Butera’s condition from being much worse.
On Monday, Butera also made reference to The St. Clair Missourian’s front page on April 4 that showed a picture of a kneeling Keller with his head bowed while Butera was being loaded into the helicopter for transport. The crashed motorcycle lay in between.
“I don’t know if you saw the front page of The Missourian,” Butera said. “But this guy (Keller) was down on one knee because he didn’t know if he would see me again.
“He saved my life.”
St. Clair American Legion Post 347 Commander Glenn Gildehaus went to the microphone after that and said, “That’s what it’s all about.”
Butera’s comments followed those of Sons of Legion member Andy Velasco, who said Memorial Day is a day to remember those “who have not fallen yet” as well as those who have died while serving their country.
Gildehaus, St. Clair American Legion Chaplain Raymond Bay, Legion Auxiliary member Lois Huff, Legion Riders member James Lairmore and St. Clair Mayor Ron Blum also spoke during Monday’s event.
“This day is sacred as we honor those who have gone before us to serve our country,” Gildehaus said toward the start of the ceremony. “This is a day to renew our pledge to our country and its flag.”
Blum’s remarks near the end were similar.
“This day is chosen to be set aside to pay respects to those men and women who have given us something we cherish so much — our freedom,” the mayor said. “They paid the ultimate price for that freedom — their lives.
“But today, we need to remember that that freedom given to us really wasn’t given. It was earned. Thank you to each and every one of you.”
The ceremony also featured the traditional raising of the flags by Gildehaus, James Meyer and Bob Clemons and the playing of taps by Andrew Jackson, the new St. Clair R-XIII School District instrumental music instructor and director. Jackie Kitson led the audience in the national anthem as well as “American the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.”
Decorated World War II veteran Pete Sachs carried the American flag to lead the ceremony processional.
Memorial Day is a federal holiday observed annually in the United States on the last Monday of May. It is set aside as a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. armed forces.