CHICAGO – Sycamore resident Joe Bussone was one of the last World War II veterans honored in a welcome home parade at Midway Airport, and he wanted it that way.
Bussone stopped and talked to almost every person who cheered him for participating in an Honor Flight Chicago trip to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. A total of 86 veterans with an average age of 89 took the day trip to see veterans’ memorials.
“They thanked me,” Bussone said of the people he met, “but it was an honor to serve this country and its people.”
After the parade, a woman also told Bussone he made her day and gave him a kiss on the lips. Bussone served in the southwest Pacific and the Philippines in the Navy from 1944 to 1947 as a motor machinist mate first class.
Bussone and DeKalb resident Pete Johnson were the only locals who made the all-expenses-paid trip Wednesday, just two days before the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when U.S., British and Canadian forces invaded beaches on France’s Normandy coast, in a turning point in the war in Europe. Bussone’s son, Paul, and Johnson’s daughter, Jill Rahn, accompanied them on the trip.
Honor Flight Chicago estimates there are 25,000 living World War II veterans in the Chicago area. They currently only take World War II vets, but are accepting applications for Korean War veterans.
Those who made the trip Wednesday toured the National World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.
Johnson served from 1942 to 1946 in the U.S. Army as a technical sergeant fourth-grade in Saipan, Japan, and Korea. Sporting an American flag tie, he was chosen as the sole World War II vet to participate in a ceremony with a military color guard and active duty service personnel at the National World War II Memorial. The ceremony included taps and the national anthem.
Johnson said that moment was his favorite part of the trip.
“I don’t know why I was asked,” he said. “Maybe it was because I had my tie.”
Johnson’s biggest regret was that his two younger brothers, who also served in World War II, died before they could accompany him. One of Johnson’s favorite memories of his service was when he saw one of his brothers while he was serving in Saipan.
Johnson said his best friend was killed in action less than a year after enlisting. The war memories and Midway Airport ceremony made Johnson miss his brothers.
“I cried a little bit,” he said. “I just wish the three of us could have walked off together.”
Children in Washington came up to Johnson and thanked him for his service, even when he was waiting to use the restroom, Rahn said.
“It took his breath away that so many people totally unrelated would come up and thank all these veterans,” she said.
Paul Bussone said seeing his father surrounded by other World War II veterans was memorable. Joe Bussone was discharged from the Navy in San Francisco, without the fanfare he received at Midway Airport.
“To be recognized like this very well may have been his first time,” Paul Bussone said.
While at Air and Space Museum, Joe and Paul Bussone saw the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb Aug. 6, 1945, on Hiroshima, Japan. A second atomic bomb was dropped three days later on Nagasaki, Japan, leading to the Japanese surrender.
Before the bombs were dropped, Joe Bussone was preparing for the possibility of an invasion of the Japanese homeland. He practiced landing for about three months in the islands of the Philippines on a landing ship medium designed to carry personnel and equipment ashore.
Joe Bussone had heard at least a million Allied forces were expected to die if they tried to invade Japan.
“I thank God we didn’t do that,” Joe Bussone said. “If President Truman wouldn’t have dropped the bomb, I’m not sure I’d be here today.”
Although he uses a cane and sometimes a wheelchair to get around, Joe Bussone said he wouldn’t take back the experience he had, especially the reception at Midway Airport.
“I would go again just for this reception right here,” Joe Bussone said. “People giving thanks and appreciation.”