On this day in 1945, a hero receives the Medal of Honor from President Harry S Truman. Robert “Bob” Bush was the youngest Navy man to receive a Medal of Honor during World War II.
Bush had been only 15 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It was too young to enlist, but he joined the Navy as soon as he could afterwards, dropping out of high school at the age of 17 to do so.
He trained to be a medic. “Mom, I’m going into the service to help people, not to kill them,” he said as he left, according to Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation. It was an important statement: His mom was a nurse.
The young corpsman’s heroism came on May 2, 1945, as he served with a Marine division at the Battle of Okinawa. The day dawned, a “typical morning of fighting,” Bush later said. The Marines were trying to take a particular hill by the end of the day.
“Our platoon leader, Lieutenant James Roach,” Bush later described, “elected to take a squad of men to the base of the hill. . . . he went down with his 19 men, down through the ravine, and all hell broke loose. Where the hell they came from, nobody knows. But in the meantime, Jim Roach got hit.”
Bush never hesitated. He knew what he had to do, running quickly through the intense enemy fire until he reached his lieutenant. He could see the officer’s eyes dilating, and Roach appeared to be slipping away. Bush promptly grabbed a can of albumin (blood plasma) and began an IV.
Just then, he noticed the enemy close—too close—about 30 feet away.
He picked up Roach’s carbine and began firing. Can you imagine the scene? Bush was holding the life-saving plasma for Roach in one hand, while he wielded a carbine with the other.
“It was just like a shooting gallery,” he said. “How many I shot with that thing, I don’t know, but I used up 15 rounds. But I was thinking one thing, that if they’re going to take me, by God they’re gonna pay the bill.”
The effort was enough to save Roach. Somewhat revived by the plasma, the lieutenant struggled to his feet and began working his way toward help.
The Japanese were still coming for Bush.
“They got me,” he told a reporter years later. “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.”
Amazingly, though, Bush survived, “with the help of God and a few Marines,” as he would say.
Bush went home after the war and married his high school sweetheart. He received the Medal of Honor from Truman while he was still on his honeymoon.
He had just turned 19 years old.
“This medal wasn’t given to me because I’m the greatest guy who came down the pike,” he concluded. “We had thousands who lost their lives who were certainly identifiable as being able 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.”
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Adam Bernstein, Robert E. Bush, 79, Dies (Wash. Post; Nov. 10, 2005)
Hospital Apprentice First Class Robert Eugene Bush, USNR (Deceased) (Marine Corps University website)
Hospital Apprentice First Class Robert Bush (Military Health System and Defense Health Agency)
Hospital Apprentice First Class, USNR, (1926-2005) (Naval History and Heritage Command website)
Medal of Honor citation (Robert E. Bush; WWII)
Medal of Honor oral history (Robert E. Bush; WWII)
Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation (2004)