By Juan Carlos Llorca - The Associated Press
Wednesday Apr 27, 2011 10:06:32 EDT
TERLINGUA, Texas — Kenneth Butler touched the metal end of his prosthetic arm instinctively as he recalled the horrors he witnessed in Iraq.
Four years after losing his limb when his vehicle was hit by a bomb in Baghdad, the retired Army staff sergeant got his first chance this week to meet former President George W. Bush during a three-day bike ride in West Texas attended by more than a dozen other wounded veterans and cycling legend Lance Armstrong.
Bush rode in the event for a chance to meet with veterans and thank them for their sacrifice. But for Butler, he holds no ill-will toward the man who sent thousands of Americans to war in 2003.
“I feel his compassion,” the retired parachute infantry squad leader said Wednesday, with a note of melancholy. “It feels like he really cares about us.”
Bush and 15 wounded veterans were joined Wednesday in the last leg of a 62.5-mile ride through the rugged desert trails of Big Bend National Park by Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France champion.
Although Bush acknowledges struggling to keep up during the trek, he said he relished the opportunity.
“As a commander in chief, it was my decision to put them in harm’s way in the first place,” he said. “I feel a special bond toward them and I want them to know I’ll never forget them.”