SYRACUSE — During the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious military operation in history was taking place on the beaches of Normandy, a region of northern France. Often referred to as D-Day, the Normandy invasion resulted in a victory that became a turning point for World War II.
The Western Allies of WW II launched the invasion as part of an operation to liberate German-occupied France from Nazi control. Allied forces headed to five beaches along 50 miles of coastline. These beaches were code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. Less than a week later, on June 11, the beaches were fully secured and over 326,000 troops had landed at Normandy.
Syracuse resident Avon Bushong was part of this historic event.
Born Dec. 27, 1921, to Joe and Olive, Bushong grew up in the Syracuse area, along with his brother, Arden. He graduated from Syracuse High School in 1940.
Bushong was drafted at the age of 21 and sent to Camp Perry, a National Guard training facility in northern Ohio near Port Clinton for basic training. He arrived in the fall and stayed through the winter. In the spring Bushong was sent to Fort Campbell, located on the Kentucky-Tennessee border
He started out as a private and ended up a T3 Staff Sergeant
From Fort Campbell, he went to Camp Shanks in Orangeburg, New York and from there to England. Most of Bushong’s time in the service was spent performing maintenance on tanks.
“Our company was a service company,” said Bushong. “Our job was to keep the tanks running.”
While serving in England, Bushong ran into his brother, who was serving in the Air Force. The brothers were able to spend time together while both were stationed there.
“He lived in a hotel and I lived in a tent,” Bushong chuckled.
Bushong was sent to Omaha Beach during the Invasion of Normandy, arriving on a tank landing ship, known as an LST. He was part of the second wave of American troops landing on June 7, 1944. Bushong recalled the inclement weather conditions after a storm that moved along the coast of Normandy resulted in turbulent seas and strong currents, seriously undermining the navigation of landing crafts and causing many to become seasick.
Due to sandbars, the men had to descend from the ships a good distance from the beach and make their way to shore in water that came up to their shoulders.
“It was so rough. We had tanks chained to the floor of the LST — you’d have thought it was going to throw the tanks right off the side,” said Bushong. “They dropped us as close to the shore as they could.”
Heavily guarded and surrounded by steep cliffs, Omaha was reported as being the bloodiest of the D-Day beaches. Infantrymen in the initial waves of the attack were gunned down by German gunfire.
“I wasn’t quite so scared when I could see what was in back of me — all the ships to back us up,” Bushong said.
Bushong served in the military for three years and three months. Following an injury to his foot, he was sent to a MASH, a mobile army surgical unit serving as a hospital in a combat area. He was eventually moved to Percy Jones Military Hospital in Battle Creek, Mich. and discharged in December 1945.
Bushong won numerous medals and awards during his time in the military.
Prior to being drafted, Bushong was set up on a blind date with a girl from Elkhart, Mary Ellen Kunkel. The two began dating, continuing a long distance relationship while Bushong was in the military. They were married once Bushong was discharged from the service, following the injury to his foot.
“I got married on crutches,” Bushong recalled. They were married for 70 years. Mary Ellen passed away on Sept. 30, — the date of their 70th wedding anniversary.
Following high school, Bushong had taken machining classes.
“After the war, the machining business was slow,” said Bushong. “Places would work you for a while and then lay you off, and I didn’t like that … so I got into the post office.”
Bushong started out as a substitute clerk at the Syracuse Post office. He eventually became a regular clerk and then the postmaster. Bushong worked at the Syracuse Post Office for 37 years. When Bushong started, the post office was located on East Main Street.
In 1978 the present building was erected on the north side of Syracuse. Bushong, who was postmaster at that time, was a member of the site-selecting committee and the driving force behind the new post office building.
Bushong has two children: a daughter, Mary Kay Ridings, Syracuse, and a son, Doug Bushong, Johnson City, Tenn. He also has three grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. In November 2018 Bushong was presented with a quilt at the Threads of Valor presentation held at Kosciusko Community Senior Center in Warsaw.