WWII Vet: Happy To Leave 'Worst Place You Can Be'

World War II veteran, flight engineer and B-24 ball turret gunner Walter Kush displays a photograph i i

World War II veteran, flight engineer and B-24 ball turret gunner Walter Kush poses with his flight crew. Kush is at the left end of the front row. Greg Allen/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Greg Allen/NPR
World War II veteran, flight engineer and B-24 ball turret gunner Walter Kush displays a photograph

World War II veteran B-24 ball turret gunner Walter Kush displays a photograph of his flight crew amid war-era newspapers and magazines.

Greg Allen/NPR

This Veterans Day, we're hearing from some of those who served in America's wars. Walter Kush is hale and healthy today at 86, but he was just a teenager in World War II.

Kush, who lives in Key Largo, Fla., was a flight engineer assigned to a B-24 crew that flew bombing missions over Austria, France and Germany.

In an old sepia-tone photograph, Kush is one of the few in his crew who's smiling — even though he had one of the most dangerous jobs on a bomber: suspended in a glass and metal bubble on the plane's underside — the ball turret gunner.

"That ball turret gunner is probably the most precarious thing in any service," Kush said. "That's the worst place you can be anytime, ever, anyplace."

Asked about his experience, Kush recalls his first mission, when he saw a B-24 explode in midair:

"I said, 'Whoa.' I thought, 'Oh my God.' I said, 'What the heck am I doing up here?' " Kush said.

"I made a vow that day for two things. I made a vow that says I'll never worry, and I'll never wait in line. And believe me, I don't do that."

When it was finally time for him to return to the United States after the war, Kush said, "I wasn't too concerned about expecting a big homecoming and all this. I was so glad to be home, who wants anything like that?"

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And on this Veterans Day, throughout our show, were hearing from those who have served in the nations wars. NPRs Greg Allen spent time in Key Largo, Florida with one veteran of World War II.

GREG ALLEN: Walter Kush is a hale 86 today, but he was just a teenager in World War II.

Kush was a flight engineer assigned to a B-24 crew that flew bombing missions over Austria, France and Germany.

When he saw another B-24 explode in midair during his first mission, he made himself a promise.

Mr. WALTER KUSH: I made a vow that for two things. I made a vow, and said that Ill never worry and Ill never wait in line. And believe me, I dont do that.

ALLEN: I asked Kush what kind of welcome he received when he returned home to New York.

Mr. KUSH: As much as I thought should be. I wasnt too concerned about the expecting a big homecoming and all this. I was so glad to home, you know, who wants anything like that?

ALLEN: Kush began looking for work. He discovered that a provision of the GI Bill offered veterans financial help as they searched for jobs.

Mr. KUSH: They had a club they called 52-20 club. That meant that they wanted to give you a couple of bucks to tide you over. What it is that you got $20 a week for 52 weeks. I got in line to go in there and I said, uh-uh. I said, Im not going to wait in line. I said I dont need them. Im going to get busy and get some work. I dont need Ive never accepted a welfare check, never accepted nothing.

ALLEN: Kush eventually moved with his family from New York to California, where he built missiles for Rockwell International until his retirement. In Key Largo, hes active with the local VFW, but says he rarely talks about his war experiences.

Mr. KUSH: We done what were supposed to do, and we did it.

ALLEN: World War II Veteran Walter Kush.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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