John Robert Bush
United States Air Force
Fort Walton Beach, Florida
May 17, 1943 to July 09, 1973
(Incident Date July 24, 1968)
JOHN R BUSH is on the Wall at Panel W51, Line 47



The Most Intense Man I Ever Met

John Bush and I were classmates in Undergraduate Navigator Training (UNT), Class 67-19, at Mather AFB, California. He was short, about 5 feet eight, weighed about 160 pounds, had short cropped dirty blonde hair, a muscular frame and an nose that was longer than most.

He'd graduated from the Air Force Academy a couple of months before we met in 1966, and he was the most intense person I've ever known. He was remarkably intelligent, incredibly competitive and supremely self confident. He had earned his paratrooper's jump wings while a cadet, and as a navigator student he used to do all the math on his flight logs in pen, because he knew he wouldn't make a mistake. That made hand-to-hand combat training very interesting because he and I were always paired up, because we were about the same size and weight.

It also made classes interesting. Sometimes, the academic program in navigator school seemed to be designed to wash people out of the program. After an exam, the class would gather and the instructor would announce the grades from top down, best score first. The Weather exam was particularly tough, and the tension in the class rose as score after score was announced without John being mentioned. Finally, he was the only one left and the instructor asked, "Okay Bush, what happened?" John sat there silently, waiting for the instructor to go on. We didn't know what disaster had struck, but we could tell that John had finally messed up. "You know, Bush," the instructor said, walking down the aisle toward him. "Nobody has ever gotten a hundred on the Weather exam. What happened? You only got a ninety-nine."

John had a likeable personality, and he could laugh at himself. John and his wife, Kathy, couldn't have children, but they had a puppy. One day while we were picking up our hats from the table at the back of the classroom where we always left them, I picked up someone else's hat by mistake. John knew it was his because the puppy had chewed a hole through the headband. I think he enjoyed the laugh as much as everyone else.

In navigator school, John finished second in the class, while I finished in the middle of the pack. Rumor had it that our class would not get any choice assignments, so both John and I decided to take a chance and go to Navigator Bombardier Training (NBT) in hopes of getting a better assignment. The rumors were right, no good assignments -- transports and tankers, no combat berths.

In NBT, John and I took turns driving to work. He drove a red Triumph TR6 convertible, and whenever a Bob Dylan song came on the radio, he'd grumble something under his breath and immediately change the station.

We also took turns being number one in the class. But in the end he beat me out by 6/10ths of a point. Which meant that when the assignments for our class came down, and the instructor wrote them on the blackboard, John got to walk up first and pick the one he wanted. Naturally, he picked the only F-4D slot.

Prior to 1968, both crewmen in Air Force F-4 fighter bombers were almost always pilots, unlike the Navy and the Marines which regularly used radar observers in the back seat. John was one of the first non-pilots to fly as a GIB (guy in the backseat) of an Air Force F-4D fighter bomber. It was a really choice assignment.

As close as we were, I never saw John again after graduation. On July 24, 1968, First Lieutenant John Robert Bush, 25, was lost on a mission over North Vietnam. According to the intelligence report I heard the next day, his plane was inverted when it hit the water in the Gulf of Tonkin. He had been flying missions over Laos and North Vietnam for only about six weeks. The pilot was Harley B. Hackett III. Both men were listed as missing in action, but their status was changed to Killed - Body Not Recoverable.

It's been 33 years, but I think of John Bush every day.

A memorial from his Friend,
Tom Mangan
194 Utica Street, Brockport, NY 14420 
24 Jul 2001

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