Robert Bush, 18 Year Old Hero on Okinawa

Posted on April 4th, 2016 by:

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Robert Bush, 18 Year Old Hero on Okinawa

Robert Eugene Bush was a logger’s son from Washington State. After his parents divorce, he lived with his mother in the basement rooms of the hospital where she worked as a nurse. When America went to war in 1941, Robert took a job in a lumber mill were the owners were hiring underage boys to replace the men who volunteered or were drafted into the service. The owners rigged red lights around the mill that would turn on when the inspectors came to give time for the boys to hide.



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Robert E. Bush meets President Harry Truman

In 1943, Robert Bush dropped out of high school and joined the Navy. He became a Corpsman, sailors who went into combat as medics with the Marines. Bush was rated as a Navy Hospital Apprentice and was soon sent overseas as a replacement for George Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. The 1st Marine Division was a veteran outfit, having previously fought at Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, and most recently at Peleliu, where it suffered heavy casualties. Now, the division was preparing for Operation Iceberg, the Invasion of Okinawa.

The 1st Marine division landed on Okinawa on D-Day, April 1st, 1945, April Fool’s Day. The Marines feared 80 to 85 percent casualties during the landing and were shocked to find almost no opposition on the beach. They swiftly moved inland but surprisingly, encountered little resistance. The 1st Marine Division spent much of April processing Okinawan civilian refugees. The division fought small skirmishes, mostly against guerrillas and snipers but had not yet come against the Japanese Army.

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Robert E. Bush wearing his Congressional Medal of Honor

The Japanese military planned to let the Americans get ashore and then oppose them with a series of heavily fortified defensive lines across the southern part of the island. By late April, American forces encountered the Japanese in strength and realized that the quick battle they had hoped for would be impossible. In front of the Americans was the Shuri Line. With heights allowing the Japanese full observation of approaching US Forces, and killing zones set with interlocking fire, the Shuri line was a nightmare for Americans soldiers and Marines. To add to the suffering, American commanders repeatedly attacked the line with costly frontal assaults, tactics that baffled even the Japanese commanders who were surprised the Americans made no attacks via the southern beaches to turn their weakened right flank.



On May 1st, 1945, the 1st Marine Division entered the front lines to relieve the Army’s 27th Infantry Division with plans to attack the next day. The night before the scheduled attack, a Japanese map was captured with every Marine position clearly marked. The Japanese knew who was coming and was ready for them. May 2nd, 1945 was rainy, and the ground was wet and muddy. The Marines advanced through the rugged countryside under heavy fire. Whenever they seized high ground, the Japanese rained mortar, artillery and small arms fire down on them, making it almost impossible to hold any territory.

During the attack, George Company was ordered to take a hill. The men were on edge, the rain slowed them down as they crawled through the wet muddy ground. Bush’s platoon leader, Lieutenant James Roach took 19 Marines to the base of the hill. Bush and the other men watched as Roach moved forward. As soon as the lieutenant advanced, the Japanese attacked. The Marines didn’t know where the Japanese came from, but they were inundated with fire from all sides. Robert Bush found himself in the most intense battle he had ever seen.  As Marines got hit all around him, Bush did his job; he patched up the wounded and braved intense enemy fire to save his fellow Marines from dying.



In the distance, Bush saw Lieutenant Roach get hit in the chest. He was far away, through open ground and with no way to get to him but by facing the withering fire. Corpsmen were trained not to risk themselves in battle to save one life if it would result in their own death. If Bush ran to his lieutenant and got killed, there would be no one else to help the other wounded men. This thought didn’t enter Bush’s mind as he ran to Roach through artillery and small arms fire. When he reached Roach, Bush saw the lieutenant’s eyes were dilating and he knew Roach would die if he didn’t act quickly. He stuck a blood plasma IV into Roach and told him to hang on. Bush was in an exposed position, wide open and visible to the enemy. Bush saw he was being watched. Less than 30 feet away Japanese heads popped up. Bush fired at them with his pistol in one hand and the bottle of plasma in the other. When he ran out of pistol ammunition, he took Roach’s carbine. He aimed low, a foot below the heads. He was so close he knew he would not miss. Bush was eighteen years old and didn’t think he would live to see nineteen. As he fired, he thought: “If they are going to take me, by God they’re going to pay the bill.”

With plasma entering his body, Roach was able to recover enough to get up. Another marine came down the hill and Bush told the man to take Roach and get him back to the rest of the men. As soon as the lieutenant was away, the Japanese tossed down a hand grenade that exploded and took out Bush’s right eye. They quickly dropped two more grenades that filled Bush with metal splinters. Dazed and dripping blood, Bush knew he had to leave. He was afraid to turn his back on the enemy since he thought they would just cut him down. He went around the hill instead, finding his way with his one remaining eye. He came across a machine gun nest manned by three Japanese. The Japanese didn’t see Bush, who raised his carbine and killed each man with a single shot. When Bush returned to his comrades, he continued his job of taking care of the wounded, refusing to be evacuated until the enemy was routed.



Robert Bush was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor the day after his 19th birthday on October 5th, 1945 at a special White House ceremony. He became one of seven Navy Corpsmen to receive the medal in World War Two. After the War, Robert Bush returned to Washington State, he married, went to school and became a successful lumber mill owner. Robert Eugene Bush died on November 8th, 2005.

Of his award, Bush said “You have to remember you weren’t the greatest soldier or medic of all time, you were just another one doing your job… my sincere feeling is that we wear the medal in honor of those that didn’t get it that should have had it and also those that didn’t come home.”



For More Reading About Okinawa Check Out:

The Ultimate Battle: Okinawa 1945–The Last Epic Struggle of World War II


The Battle For Okinawa


With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa


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4 thoughts on “Robert Bush, 18 Year Old Hero on Okinawa

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  • Stephen Surowiecki says:

    like THE COMMENT ABOVE, I ALSO CAME ACROSS A WAR TO BE WON BY ACCIDENT. I ENJOY READING IT AND DO SO EACH DAY. AS A FORMER HISTORY & GEOGRAPHY TEACHER I LAMENT THE PHASING OUT OF HISTORY/GEOGRAPHY Y STUDIES IN OUR SCHOOLS.

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