President Harry S. Truman presents the Medal of Honor to Robert E. Bush on October 5, 1945.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 9/29/2014
  • Essay 10936

On October 5, 1945, in a special ceremony on the White House lawn, President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) drapes the Medal of Honor on the neck of Robert E. Bush (1926-2005). Hospital Apprentice Bush, U.S. Navy, is awarded the Medal of Honor for his exceptional heroism on May 2, 1945, in the battle for Okinawa. On that day Bush saved lives and fought as an infantryman. Under intense enemy fire, he went to the aid of a seriously wounded marine. With one hand he administered medical aid, and with the other he fired a pistol and then a rifle to fight off a Japanese attack. The enemy attacked with grenades that sent shrapnel into Robert Bush's body. Despite these serious wounds, he continued his defense and shielded the wounded marine. After receiving the Medal of Honor he will finish high school, attend the University of Washington, and cofound a successful lumber company.

Joining the Navy Hospital Corps

Robert E. Bush was born in Tacoma and for several years lived with his grandparents there. His father was absent so he and a sister went to Raymond, Washington, and lived with their mother. She was a nurse at the Bridge Hospital in Raymond. They lived in the hospital basement until she remarried when Robert was in the eighth grade. Robert attended Willapa Valley High School. He found himself in trouble, but with the guidance of his high school coach he turned his life around. In January 1944 in his junior year, he left high school at 17 years old and joined the navy. He completed boot camp and requested hospital training, influenced by his mother's commitment to nursing and aiding the injured.

Following the navy hospital-apprentice course, he served four months at Naval Hospital, Seattle. He then attended the medical corpsman training at Camp Pendleton, California. Robert Bush was shipped to the South Pacific and assigned to the 5th Marines, and was then sent for training on Pavuvu Island, Russell Islands. He arrived two days before Christmas 1944. He served with the 5th Marines as a medic in the tough battle for Okinawa. The invasion of Okinawa took place on April 1, 1945. Hospital Apprentice Bush used his medic skills in the 30 days of hard fighting that followed.

Heroism in the Battle for Okinawa

On May 2, 1945, Hospital Apprentice First Class Robert E. Bush was assigned to a marine corps rifle company in the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. The division was in its 30th day of combat to secure Okinawa Island. That day the company sent out a patrol of 11 men under the command of Lieutenant James F. Roach (1922-2002). The patrol almost immediately came under heavy enemy mortar fire. One-half of the patrol was wounded or killed. Among the seriously wounded was First Lieutenant Roach. He was lying wounded but with some cover behind a ledge. Robert Bush rushed out to rescue him and give him medical aid.

Medic Bush and two riflemen ran across an open field. As soon as they started across the field, enemy fire hit. The three hit the ground and sought what little protection the ground offered. The two riflemen were hit and went down. Medic Bush jumped up and resumed running toward the lieutenant as bullets hit all around him. He made it to Lieutenant Roach, who was seriously wounded. Bush administrated albumin with one hand, and with the other he fired his pistol at the attacking Japanese forces. After he emptied the pistol, he grabbed the lieutenant's rifle and continued firing.

As he fired, a grenade landed near him and the lieutenant. Shrapnel hit Medic Bush in the backside. Despite the pain, he continued to fire at the Japanese forces that were rushing their position. Three Japanese soldiers fell. A second grenade hit near Bush and this time shrapnel pierced his left arm and right eye. Surviving marines of the patrol came up to the battle and silenced the enemy. Bush and the lieutenant were carried to a field hospital.

Robert Bush was badly wounded and rushed to a general hospital. He awoke eight days later, but he thought it had only been a few hours. He was then put aboard the hospital ship U.S.S. Relief, which took the wounded from Okinawa to Guam. Some of the patients were taken off and treated at Guam hospitals and the others were taken to Pearl Harbor. Bush continued on to Oakland and received treatment at the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital. He received his first glass eye there. Pieces of shrapnel would remain in his left lung and left arm.

Returning to Washington

Robert Bush was discharged in July 1945, and he returned to Washington to marry his high school sweetheart and to get his high school diploma. On September 30, 1945, he married Wanda Spooner (1927-1999) and they spent their honeymoon traveling by train across the country to attend the Medal of Honor awards at the White House. In a special ceremony on the White House lawn on October 5, 1945, President Harry S. Truman awarded Robert Bush, along with 13 others, the Medal of Honor. The ceremony took place one day after Robert's 19th birthday.

The Bushes came back to Washington state, and Robert completed high school in 1946. He worked in a meat market, food store, and lumberyard. In between these jobs he took business administration courses at the University of Washington. In 1951 he and a partner founded Bayview Lumber Company at South Bend. He also established Bayview Redi-Mix at Elma, Washington. Bayview Lumber Company would grow to seven stores selling lumber and appliances. The Bushes were married for 52 years and had three sons and a daughter.

Robert "Bob" Bush was active in supporting veterans' causes. He was a member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and in 1971 was the first navy man and first West Coast veteran elected as society president. He attended numerous events, including every presidential inauguration beginning with Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), with the exception of Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973), who did not extend special invitations to Medal of Honor recipients.

Robert Bush died in 2005 and is buried in the Fern Hill Cemetery in Menlo, near Raymond.

Honoring Robert Bush

After the battle for Okinawa, Lieutenant Roach recovered from his wounds and returned to civilian life. He obtained a law degree from Stanford University and went on to become a judge. He spoke publically about Robert Bush as the hero who saved his life. Tom Brokaw (b. 1940) cites Bob Bush in his book The Greatest Generation as an example of a war hero who became a successful businessman after the war. Brokaw writes that Bob Bush followed certain principles that gave him the strength to survive and help others.

South Bend established the Robert E. Bush Park on Robert Bush Drive to honor the town's heroic citizen. Prominent in the park is a statue showing Medic Bush attending to a wounded marine. The statue was dedicated on November 11, 1998. At the marine corps camp in Twentynine Palms, California, a naval hospital is named in his honor.

Sources: Donald K. and Helen L. Ross, Washington State Men of Valor (Burley, Washington: Coffee Break Press, 1980); Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation (New York: Random House, 1998); Edward F. Murphy, Heroes: World War II (Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1990); "Sailor To Get Medal, So He Takes a Bride," Seattle Daily Times, October 1, 1945, p. 15; "President Decorates 14 of Nation's Greatest Heroes," Ibid., October 5, 1945, p. 14; "Living Honored," Ibid., May 31, 1953, p. 18; "Plaque To Honor 30 Medal Winners," Ibid., May 25, 1956, p. 32; "State's Nine Top Heroes Are Honored," Oregonian, March 22, 1963, p. 11; "Elma Man Heads Medal Society," The Seattle Daily Times, November 2, 1971, p. 9; Don Duncan, "Medal Of Honor," Ibid., May 17, 1980, p. 12.

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