Sunday October 28, 2012

RICHMOND

I don't know that mine was the "Greatest Genera tion" because when you stop to think about those guys in the tri-cornered hats who had to stand up against the British redcoats in massed formations and all those warships with the big cannons lined up against your home town, it gives you pause.

But we still have our individuals who have stood out from the crowd and one of them was a man named David Bush who died recently at the age of 90. He had a terminal heart condition and one day he called his wife of 66 years from his hospital bed and said "I've decided that it's time to go." Lila rushed to the hospital with their children and they all talked for six hours, even laughed a bit, and then the morphine took over and David quietly passed.

They spent most of their lives in Rochester, N.Y, where David was a top chemist with Eastman Kodak and very active in community affairs. He was a big man, 6 feet, 4 inches, with proportionate hands and feet and features. He was also a very sensitive and charitable person who considered the world's problems as he did his own.

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When we attended Massa chusetts State College in 1940, it was obligatory for men to be part of the Reserve Officer Training Program, which meant that for our first two years we had to take military training, in uniforms and boots.

The boots were necessary because this was a cavalry unit with a full commitment of horses that had been trained in Fort Riley, Kansas. Those horses were mean unless you toadied to them and I always brought an apple to placate whatever beast I got in the draw.

Those who did well in the program continued their training through graduation when they became second lieutenants in the cavalry reserve. I had no desire for any kind of military future so I packed up my uniform and boots, but Dave and several others continued the program. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, our lives changed. The advanced military group went off to officer training camps, either as tankers or infantry, while the rest of us bided our time until my roommate and I decided to enlist in the Army Spe cialized Training Program which supposedly was going to train us to be engineering officers.

I ended up as a medic with the 104th Infantry Division with the seemingly permanent rank of private while Dave went off to infantry officer training camp. He received his commission, married the enchanting Lila and was sent to Europe. His first command was in France where he led his platoon on a reconnaissance mission into the woods of Luxembourg on the very day the Germans began the Battle of the Bulge. It was dusk when they encountered a German patrol and a firefight ensued. One of David's legs was shattered by a German bullet and he fell to the ground in the pitch black. The firefight moved off and he was left alone in the dark. Unable to walk, he lay there.

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When dawn broke, he could determine direction and be gan the slow crawl toward what he thought were Ameri can lines. For hours he crawled his way through the snow-covered terrain until he finally reached an American patrol that evacuated him for treatment. His leg needed surgery and he was shipped back to the United States exactly one month after his arrival in Europe. He received the Silver Star medal for gallantry in action.

Later in life, it became necessary for him to wear an ungainly brace, but that never interfered with his activity in his job or community or church efforts. He became the president of the Rochester Chapter of Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. He also later formed a luncheon club called ROMEO (Retired Old Men who Eat Out.)

David's ashes were to be buried in Westfield where his family harked back to the men with tri-cornered hats with a fervor to be free. It surprised me on arrival at the cemetery to see a firing party of seven men wearing American Le gion uniforms holding rifles at parade rest. And under our canopy were three service men, two Air Force sergeants and a sergeant major, standing at full attention while the rain poured down on the canopy. My wife swears they did not breathe during the hourlong ceremony.

When the talks were over, the two sergeants went through the flag ceremony, triangle by triangle, while a young service woman several tombstones away played a most haunting taps on her trumpet. The firing party shot off three rounds and while the flag was being refolded, triangle by triangle, they collected the spent cartridges and placed them in a small sack.

When the flag was given to the widow, the sergeant major said, "On behalf of the president of the United States, the United States Army and the United States Air Force, I present this flag to you with appreciation for service rendered." The sergeant then inserted the sack of spent cartridges inside the folds of the flag, while Lila hugged it.

A good friend, a good man, gone but never forgotten.

Milton Bass is a regular Eagle
contributor.