On this day in 1924, a hero is born. Richard E. Bush would go on to receive the Medal of Honor for his heroism during World War II.
Bush was an unlikely hero.
“I didn’t want to get any medals,” he would later say. “In fact, when my brother and I were leaving to go into the service, I didn’t really want to go. I still have all the splinters in my fingernails from where they came and pulled me off the porch.”
His father was equally emphatic that his sons should not go around risking their lives. He told his sons that if “either one of you comes home with a medal, I’m going to beat you to death.”
Perhaps Bush wasn’t a very good listener?
On April 16, 1945, Corporal Bush was squad leader of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 6th Marine Division. They were then at Okinawa, fighting for control of Mount Yae-take.
Let’s just say that Bush wasn’t acting in accordance with his dad’s advice. To the contrary, Bush “fought relentlessly,” his citation notes, and at “the forefront of the action.” It couldn’t have been easy. The Japanese were in an elevated position and pouring incessant fire on our boys. Nevertheless, Bush’s squad was the first to break through that day, finally penetrating the Japanese outer defenses.
“We’ve got ‘em on the run!” Bush reportedly yelled. “Don’t let up now.”
At just that moment, Bush took a blow. “He got hit in the leg with machine gun fire,” his friend later reported. “Four of his men threw him on a poncho, grabbed a corner each, and ran to the back of the hill.” Bush was evacuated to some protective rocks nearby. He was bleeding profusely and apparently going in and out of consciousness by this point.
Nevertheless, he knew what he had to do when a Japanese grenade landed near his position.
“Dick saw it,” his friend concludes, “and if he wouldn't have grabbed it and pulled it in he would have probably lost four of his buddies. I can see Dick doing it because he's that type of man. He's a very unselfish man, a brilliant man, a good man, and a brave man.”
Bush lost sight in one eye, and he lost several fingers. Moreover, the experience left him with metal in his body for the rest of his life. But, amazingly, he survived.
The young man who wasn’t “supposed to” earn a Medal remained humble afterwards.
“I wasn't out there alone that day on Okinawa,” Bush later told a reporter. “I had Marines to my right, Marines to my left, Marines behind me and Marines overhead. I didn't earn this alone. It belongs to them too.”
Adam Bernstein, Obituary: Richard Bush (Washington Post; June 17, 2004)
Bill Sloan, The Ultimate Battle: Okinawa 1945--The Last Epic Struggle of World War II (2007)
Bush, Richard E. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Laura Homan Lacey, Stay Off the Skyline: The Sixth Marine Division on Okinawa: an Oral History (2005)
Medal of Honor Recipients: Corporal Richard E. Bush (Sixth Marine Division website)
Medal of Honor citation (Richard Earl Bush; WWII)
Myrna Oliver, Richard E. Bush, 79; Was Honored for WWII Acts (L.A. Times; June 15, 2004)