As the nation celebrated the anniversary of its birth last week, one local resident was finally able to enjoy the recognition he earned defending the country during some of its darkest hours.
Waterloo resident Virgil Bush, 86, served in a little recognized but vitally important organization in the World War II effort — the U.S. Merchant Marines. And when he moved into the recently opened Legacy Place senior living center and applied for his veteran benefits, he received four medals earned during his service — along with a decades-long delayed letter of thanks from President Harry S. Truman.
Bush’s son and daughter-in-law, Richard and Jan Bush, made a shadowbox with his medals and Merchant Marines pin, and presented it to him on Father’s Day.
“Grandma and Grandpa used to live here in Waterloo and Grandpa worked for the city for a while,” said Virgil’s grand- daughter, Sara Naumann. “I think he used to frequent J.V.’s, because he remembers Jeff (Vogt) and always tells me stories about drinking up there.”
Bush and his wife of 67 years, Rosemary, moved from their home in Keyesport to Legacy Place earlier this spring to be close to family. It was his request for a DD Form 214, Report of Separation, that started the wheels in motion.
Bush enlisted in the Merchant Marines at the age 17, and served from 1944 to 1947. Merchant Mariners, while not a combat operation, offered crucial support to troops fighting in the European and Pacific Theaters. Their numbers equaled that of the Coast Guard, and their ranks suffered the highest rate of fatalities of all the armed forces at nearly four percent of its force.
Bush spent two years sailing the dangerous waters of World War II, and during those years the young mariner earned ratings of Refrigeration Engineer, Junior Engineer Oiler, Fireman, Water Tender, lifeboat man and Deck Engineer.
His three years total of service earned him the World War II Medal, Atlantic and Pacific War Zone Medals, and Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone Medal.
Among Bush’s favorite stories from his mariner days is how he kicked his smoking habit when his ship was tasked to transport gasoline across the high seas. No one on board was allowed to smoke, and he never returned to the habit after safely delivering the fuel.
But perhaps Bush’s fondest memory was being present when the Japanese surrendered. His ship was anchored in Tokyo Bay, and its departure was delayed so they could attend the surrender ceremony held on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.