“This is a reprint of a story we published in May 2014. It is one of the most touching Memorial Day stories we have ever written. This story not only pays tribute to our heroes, it also paints them in a light of grace and forgiveness”.
-Michael Monaco, Publisher-
By Amber Weber
Most Americans have heard of the legendary American heroism and unfortunate horrors of World War II. But have they heard of unexpected blessings wrought from the tragedy of war?
Hans Busch was a WWII fighter pilot in the Nazi regime. He trained in the Flying Hitler Youth and later piloted one of the first jets that Germany built as part of the elite Luftwaffe. Today he’s as much a member of Chula Vista’s WWII veterans group as any of the American vets. He’s even featured in an exhibit about German troops at the home of Jesse Thompson, a Pearl Harbor survivor.
Hans Busch left Germany and settled in the United States in 1951. He became a U.S. citizen not long after, putting memories of Hitler’s Third Reich behind him. Some 10 years ago, a mutual friend introduced Hans to Jesse. Ever since then, Hans has routinely joined American WWII veterans and friends for a time of fellowship.
“Didn’t anyone in the group protest?” I asked Jesse, surprised that forgiveness could be so forthcoming. “No,” answered Jesse. “We don’t have any rules, and it just didn’t matter.” In this house, it is evident that war is not carried out by men, but by governments.
Jesse Thompson was only 13 years old when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. He had just moved to Honolulu with his family a month earlier. After school one Friday, he went to a friend’s place on Pearl Harbor to spend the weekend. Sunday morning, he woke to torpedoes being fired on Battleship Row, within a stone’s throw from where he stood, wide-eyed.
Stuart Hedley, better known as Stu, was stationed on the USS West Virginia on that fateful day. His ship was heavily damaged, but he survived. He jumped off the ship, into the ocean, and escaped the flames caused by the burning oil on the water’s surface.
These men, and about 30 others, get together every Wednesday morning to share stories about Pearl Harbor, tell jokes and even watch a John Wayne movie now and then. The WWII vets are almost all in their 90s, but there are spatterings of men and women of all ages. Some are Vietnam vets and others are simply retired from military service. A handful of people have never been in the Armed Forces. They attend each week because they’re grateful for the service these heroes have offered and because, simply, it’s fun. They meet at Jesse’s house, which is part home, part museum.
On a recent Wednesday, Stu gave me a tour of the exhibits in Jesse’s home with as much pride as though he were the homeowner and museum curator. He pointed out framed photos of battleships that were signed by men who served on them, written histories of late Pearl Harbor survivors, models of planes, various weapons, helmets and even enemy artifacts.
It is clear that this group of WWII survivors and their friends care about one another. It doesn’t matter whether they fought in the Pacific theatre or the European theatre. It doesn’t even matter whether they fought as Allies or Axis. In the most extreme circumstances, despite the tragedy of war, men found each other, forgave each other and now support one another. Grace was extended, and grace was received.