MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- A blue ribbon made of silk, embroidered with 13 white stars with a star-shaped medal hanging from an anchor - a simple description for a symbol so powerful to those who know its true meaning. However, many recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Nation’s highest award for valor, don’t see this award as belonging to them, and often view it as a reflection of the men on their flank or those who did not return home. Honorary Master Chief Petty Officer Robert Eugene Bush, was one of these selfless men.
The nation now mourns the loss of a man, a true hero of war and of self, who truly considered his life and his family his greatest accomplishments.
But for the Sailors and staff of the Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital, this loss hits a more personal chord as they say goodbye not only to their namesake, but also to their friend.
A memorial service was held at the hospital grounds Nov. 16 for Bush, 79, who passed away Nov. 8 after battling cancer and was attended by staff and Bush’s personal friends. This event took place just footsteps from a cast bronze statue depicting the heroic acts of then 18-year-old Hospital Apprentice First Class Bush, a corpsman, on the island of Okinawa in 1945.
In front of nearly the nearly 125 people gathered, the citation for Bush’s gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty was read, followed by the playing of Taps.
The citation told a tale of a young Sailor who moved through deadly barrages to get to those in need and saved the life of a severely wounded Marine officer during a fierce battle May 2, 1945. The dying Marine lay at his feet on a highly exposed ridgeline where Bush administered plasma in hopes of his survival. When an inevitable Japanese attack came, Bush raised the bottle high and began firing with his pistol until his ammunition was depleted.
Grabbing the Marine’s carbine, he managed to kill six Japanese soldiers at point-blank range before grenades were thrown at his exposed position. Shielding his patient, he received shrapnel to his face and body, and suffered the loss of his right eye. Bush refused medical help until he saw his patient safely away to get further assistance. He collapsed on his way to a battle aid station.
Bush soon became the youngest recipient of the naval Medal of Honor in 1945 when President Harry S. Truman, in the name of Congress, placed it around his neck at the White House.
“This was a fairly low-key event and we prefer it to do things that way rather that pomp and circumstance,” said Navy Capt. Robert J. Engelhart, commanding officer of the hospital which has bared Bush’s name for five years. “It’s the spirit that’s important. We felt that a more somber, serious and subtle tone would be more appropriate, and I feel that it really went well.”
“For me, it was the loss of a friend,” added Engelhart. “It was the loss of the namesake of the hospital that I have the privilege to command and the loss of an American hero.”
Since Engelhart’s arrival more than two years ago, he said he has had the privilege of Bush’s company at the hospital more than a dozen times in surprise visits.
“Whenever he was vacationing in Indio, he’d be especially delighted to call up the hospital and let us know he was on his way,” said Engelhart during the ceremony. “We’d scurry to change our schedules around, but we loved having him. He was so proud of the hospital, as all of us are, but even more so he was proud of the crew of this hospital. It’s the crew that brings this hospital to life.”
“For everyone of the crew here, meeting Bob Bush was something of a magical moment,” continued Englehardt. “He was generous, kind and very much at ease.”
Englehart also spoke at Bush’s funeral in Washington state, which was attended by nearly 900 people. He was interred there next to his wife and son, said Engelhart.
“When I heard about his passing, it really hit me harder than I thought it would,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher White, 32, who played Taps to conclude the ceremony. “Everyone was, in a way, expecting it because he had missed the last couple of Navy and Corpsman Balls. They won’t be the same without him.”
“It was almost like we lost a member of the hospital, like you lost a family member,” said White, a Tucson, Ariz., native who works in the physical therapy department at the hospital and is part of the color guard. “Everybody knew who he was and looked up to him. I think everyone’s heart sank a little around here when we heard the news.”