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 89.5 took the 1-day trip to see veterans’ memorials.
“I didn’t know any of them,” Bussone said of the crowd at Midway. “They thanked me, 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 Islands 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 2 days before the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when U.S. forces invaded Normandy, France, in a turning point in the war against Nazi Germany. Bussone’s son, Paul, and Johnson’s daughter, Jill Rahn, also went on the trip to serve as guardians.
Honor Flight Chicago estimates there are 25,000 World War II veterans living in the Chicago area. They currently only take World War II vets but are accepting applications for Korean War veterans.
Veterans who made the trip Wednesday saw the National World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial and Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
Johnson served from 1942 to 1946 in the U.S. Army as a technical fourth grade sergeant in Saipan, Japan, and Korea. Wearing 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 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 WWII, were not with him because they are both dead. One of Johnson’s favorite memories of his service was when he saw one of his brothers while he was serving in Saipan.
Johnson’s best friend was killed in action less than a year after enlisting in the war. 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, D.C. 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 WWII veterans was memorable. Joe Bussone was discharged from the war in San Francisco, without the fanfare like he received at Midway Airport.
“To be recognized like this very well may have been his first time,” Paul Bussone said.
While at Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, Joe and Paul Bussone saw the Enola Gay plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945, in Hiroshima, Japan. A second atomic bomb was dropped 3 days later in Nagasaki, Japan.
Before the bombs were dropped, Joe Bussone was preparing for the possibility of invading Japan. He practiced landing for about 3 months in the islands of the Philippines on an LSM (landing ship medium) that carried personnel and equipment.
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.”
Even though 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.”