Decatur Navy vet saw much action in Pacific during WWII He served aboard cruiser USS Nashville
In August 1943, the crew of the USS Nashville sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge toward Pearl Harbor. It was Francis Lee Bushong’s first departure with the Navy during World War II. The Decatur resident recalled his thoughts as the bridge’s tall orange towers faded from view. “I didn’t know if I could kill when it was time for it,” he said. “I also didn’t know if I would ever return.”
Bushong, born in 1920, may have been right to feel some trepidation aboard the cruiser launched in 1937. In April 1942 the Nashville had escorted the USS Hornet toward Japan as it carried 16 B-25 bombers on the flight deck as part of the Doolittle Raid.
In August 1942 the crew of the Nashville had participated in attacking Japanese forces in the Aleutian Islands.
In April 1944, the crew approached Wake Island in the South Pacific to provide fire support to oust the Japanese military stationed there. As the American crew bombarded the beach, Bushong, assigned during general quarters to the covered main battery, helped to load shells into the ship’s anti-aircraft guns.
Later, the Nashville carried American General Douglas MacArthur to various islands in the Pacific, including his return to the Philippines in October 1944. “MacArthur liked our ship,” said Bushong. “He knew war and which islands to go to and which to skip. He took charge until Truman ordered us home after the war ended.”
Another time the Japanese Navy was ready to take Australia, which only had two ships to defend it. “We teamed up to help the Australians chase the Japanese out,” said Bushong. “The Australians were thankful.”
Afterward, the Nashville crew developed camaraderie with the Australian sailors. “When we were not at general quarters, we had fun together,” said Bushong. “The Aussies would dive out of our ship’s port holes and swim around the ship for something to do.” The Australians even offered the Americans some of their country’s beer. “I never drank alcohol, but sipped their brew,” added Bushong. “It was good.”
On Dec. 13, 1944, the fun ended when, while patrolling around the Philippines, the Nashville was attacked by a kamikaze. The Japanese plane hit the Nashville mid-ship and exploded, killing 143 sailors aboard and injuring nearly 200 others. Though heavily damaged, the Nashville was able to provide anti-aircraft fire and reach an Allied port for repairs.
Bushong had been at the stern (back) of the ship during the attack. He was not injured and contemplated his near escape from death. “The day before, I had stood where the torpedo hit,” he said. “If that kamikaze had hit one day earlier, the explosion would have blown me up.” Bushong believed then that God wanted him to do something meaningful with his life.
In August 1945, the war ended with Japan’s surrender. Bushong, still in the Pacific, lacked enough points to be discharged and was sent to Huangpu River area in China to help with the country’s clean-up. Sadly, the Chinese had endured much persecution from the Japanese since the 1930s. “Nothing was pretty there,” said Bushong.
By the time he was discharged, Bushong had participated in 13 landings and reached the rank of lieutenant.
Back in Fort Wayne, Bushong earned a degree in education and taught in Kendallville, then drafting at Central High School in Fort Wayne. He also taught at Anthis Career Center and IPFW before retiring in 1985. Bushong and his wife Betty Jane were married on March 1, 1945. She is now deceased. They were parents to two children.
“I’d go back and fight for our country today if I could,” he said. “What I saw in the war was hard to talk about for a long while. But fighting as a soldier taught me that we should be happy for every day. I’ve spent my life after the war trying to do that.” <br>
<i>Bluffton author Kayleen Reusser published the book “World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. </i>