BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. Bush was one of 482 Navy corpsmen at Okinawa and one of six who received the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award for valor for his actions during the battle for Okinawa. According to U.S. Navy records Bush was the youngest Medal of Honor recipient in the Navy during WW II. It seems age is not what determines courage.
Bush, the son of a logger, was born October 4, 1926, in Tacoma, Washington When he was 4 years old his parents divorced. He lived with his mother, a nurse in the hospital in Raymond Washington. They lived in the basement of the hospital where his mother worked.
Bush left high school in 1943 and joined the Navy Medical Corps. Shortly after completing his training as a Navy Corpsman he became one of the 482 Navy Corpsmen participating in the amphibious assault at Okinawa, one of the bloodiest conflicts in the Pacific.
On May 2, 1945, Mr. Bush was serving with a rifle company in the 1st Marine Division when they met heavy resistance from Japanese forces on Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands.
Bush darted among the artillery, mortar and machine-gun fire to care for casualties. While feeding plasma into a fallen Marine lieutenant with a dire chest and shoulder wounds he repeatedly refused to leave his exposed position and the lieutenant on a ridge in the midst of a Japanese counterattack.
Bush held the plasma bottle aloft with one hand while he took the officer’s carbine with his free hand, then fired at the charging Japanese. He reloaded his gun and maintained point-blank fire on the foe, killing six at the cost of his right eye as hand grenades exploded around him.
“They got me,” he told a reporter during an interview in Aberdeen, Washington, “The first grenade took my eye out, and I put my arm up to hold it off, and got some fragments in the other eye. Got a lot in my eye and shoulders. They hit me with three hand grenades in a matter of seconds. I was firing on them with [the lieutenant’s] carbine. Every time I saw a Japanese head pop up, I could see the star on their helmets, I’d fire one round a foot below where I saw that head come up, because I knew I couldn’t miss, I’d get ’em on the way down.”
Mr. Bush stayed with the lieutenant until the man until was safely evacuated. He then collapsed after trying to walk to the battle aid station.
“This medal wasn’t given to me because I’m the greatest guy who came down the pike,” he once said. “We had thousands who lost their lives who were certainly equally identifiable as being able, in their mind or the minds of their compadres, to receive the Medal of Honor. But perhaps it wasn’t properly documented. So, I look at it as though I’m a custodian for those who died.”
After he was wounded, he received treatment in Hawaii and played ping-pong to regain hand-eye coordination. He finished high school and married his girlfriend, Wanda Spooner. They honeymooned in Washington, where, on Oct. 5, 1945, President Harry S. Truman awarded him the Medal of Honor.
In 1951, he bought a friend’s lumberyard in South Bend, Washington, for several hundred dollars and, with a partner, turned the operation into a multimillion-dollar enterprise. He also became involved in several building materials businesses before retiring in the mid-1980s.
Because he had only one eye, Mr. Bush spent many years in training before he earned a private pilot’s license. He often shuttled his friend James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, the Army Air Forces general famous for his wartime raid over Tokyo, to a rural retreat for salmon fishing.
Mr. Bush’s wife died in 1999. A son, Lawrence Bush, also died. Survivors include three children, Susan Ehle of Vancouver, Washington, and Robert M. “Mick” Bush and Richard Bush, both of Olympia; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor
BUSH, ROBERT EUGENE
Rank and organization: Hospital Apprentice First Class, U.S. Naval Reserve, serving as Medical Corpsman with a rifle company, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. Place and date: Okinawa Jima, Ryukyu Islands, 2 May 1945. Entered service at: Washington. Born: 4 October 1926, Tacoma, Wash.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Medical Corpsman with a rifle company, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Okinawa Jima, Ryukyu Islands, 2 May 1945. Fearlessly braving the fury of artillery, mortar, and machinegun fire from strongly entrenched hostile positions, Bush constantly and unhesitatingly moved from 1 casualty to another to attend the wounded falling under the enemy’s murderous barrages. As the attack passed over a ridge top, Bush was advancing to administer blood plasma to a marine officer Iying wounded on the skyline when the Japanese launched a savage counterattack. In this perilously exposed position, he resolutely maintained the flow of life-giving plasma. With the bottle held high in 1 hand, Bush drew his pistol with the other and fired into the enemy’s ranks until his ammunition was expended. Quickly seizing a discarded carbine, he trained his fire on the Japanese charging pointblank over the hill, accounting for 6 of the enemy despite his own serious wounds and the loss of 1 eye suffered during his desperate battle in defense of the helpless man. With the hostile force finally routed, he calmly disregarded his own critical condition to complete his mission, valiantly refusing medical treatment for himself until his officer patient had been evacuated, and collapsing only after attempting to walk to the battle aid station. His daring initiative, great personal valor, and heroic spirit of self-sacrifice in service of others reflect great credit upon Bush and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
// Harry S. Truman // President
Bush was buried in Fern Hill Cemetery, Menlo, Washington.
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.
If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.