Bob Bush died in 2005, but daughter Susie Ehle will represent him in a ceremony in Portland. She will be part of Oregon’s annual Spirit of ’45 Day, which salutes the World War II generation each second Sunday of August.
Susie Ehle realized there was something distinctive about her dad when she was going through his wartime keepsakes. She was looking for his Navy uniform so she could wear it to school, and then: “I saw these eyeballs.”
“I knew dad had an eye he couldn’t see out of,” Ehle said, but the sight of all those glass eyes still was quite a jolt.
“I screamed to my mom,” the Vancouver woman recalled. “She told me that he got a new one every year and kept the old ones.”
Then there was the time Bob and Wanda Bush piled their four kids into the station wagon and drove to Los Angeles so he could meet some war buddies. Things got really interesting when she saw other people who popped up that weekend, including Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney.
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It wasn’t just a gathering of war buddies. It was a Medal of Honor convention. Robert E. Bush was the youngest member of the U.S. Navy to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II.
Bush died in 2005, but Ehle will represent him Sunday in a ceremony at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland. She will be part of Oregon’s annual Spirit of ’45 Day, which salutes the World War II generation each second Sunday of August.
“The idea is to keep that spirit alive,” said Barbara Jensen, one of the project’s leaders.
Bush, who grew up near Willapa Bay on Washington’s coast, left high school when he was 17 and became a Navy medical corpsman attached to a Marine rifle company. During fierce fighting on Okinawa, Bush treated several casualties before coming to the aid of a wounded Marine lieutenant.
Holding a bottle of plasma with his left hand, “Bush drew his pistol with the other and fired into the enemy’s ranks until his ammunition was expended,” reads his Medal of Honor citation.
“Quickly seizing a discarded carbine, he trained his fire on the Japanese charging point-blank 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.”
When the war was over, Bush returned home and went back to school, as many veterans did. But he was a high school student with a Medal of Honor. President Truman presented the award on Oct. 6, 1945.
“He wanted to take his mother to the ceremony, but she said no,” Ehle said. Estelle Bush suggested that it would be a good time for her son to marry his sweetheart, Wanda. The trip to New York was their honeymoon.
He was a football player before he enlisted, Ehle noted, and he turned out for football again when he went back to school. “They let him in for a couple of plays a game, but he was pretty beat up” because of his combat injuries.
Ehle, who grew up in South Bend, said she didn’t learn about her dad’s time in the Navy until she was in high school.
“I had to do a project on World War II,” said Ehle, a retired Jason Lee Middle School teacher. “He started talking about the war and started getting involved in veterans’ things. I used to write his speeches.”
Eventually, Bob Bush went on to become a successful businessman, applying many of the qualities he demonstrated during the war. His kids discovered some of the benefits of having a Medal of Honor recipient in the family. Ehle accompanied her dad to two presidential inaugurations.
“I went to (Bill) Clinton’s first inauguration,” said Ryan Niemi, her son.
Tom Brokaw devoted a chapter of his best-selling “The Greatest Generation” to Bush. One of the sources Brokaw interviewed was Ehle.
Ehle will reflect that theme in the speech she has written for Sunday’s event: “There will never be another generation like them: integrity, humility, generosity, work ethic and patriotism. They will always be an inspiration to us.”