John’s Honor Flight

On Tuesday, May 3 soon after his 94th birthday, John Bush joined about 180 WWII veterans and their guardians on a one-day trip to Washington, DC, to visit several war memorials and monuments sponsored by the Heartland Honor Flight Organization.

On their return to KC, the coordinators reenacted a Mail Call ritual. Unbeknownst to John, friends and family kept sending cards and notes, so much so that the coordinator looked forward to meeting John. “Mr Bush has received a good bit of mail, it’s clear he’s well regarded,” she said in an email to me.

My own Mail Call letter to him read as follows:
Dear John, I’ve never been asked to participate in an event like this. Of course being at Rainbow has provided me many new experiences, for which I am grateful. Perhaps one of the most amazing aspects of being a pastor is learning to know people like you. Learning to know you, your adult children, and watching you care for your beloved Kathleen has been precious. I stand by what I said that one Sunday-when you arrive every Sunday I say to myself, “The eagle has landed. We can begin now.” Rainbow would not be the same without you. So many people would not be the same if it wasn’t for your steady encouragement, positive attitude, generous spirit, and noble sacrifices. So to that I say thank you for your life of generous service. 94 years and counting…..may this year ahead take flight with good things.


Two months later, while visiting John in the hospital, he pointed to a bright blue shirt hanging in his hospital room and said, “I hope that shirt doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable.” It was his Heartland Honor Flight t-shirt. “I just assumed it was a Royals shirt, ” I said with a smile. He smiled in return.

A part of me wishes we would have talked more about what it was like to be a WWII veteran in a Mennonite Church. Did he ever feel uncomfortable, I often wondered. Then again, John wasn’t one to hold back when stating what we believed. He also wasn’t one to stop learning and listening. He was always interested in what other people thought. He was a keen observer, perched up in his chair on Sunday mornings surveying the congregation with his caring, eagle-like eyes.

I once asked John if he saw death as its own Honor Flight of sorts–yet another adventure. He said he liked that image. Of course he wasn’t one to dwell too much on images and questions pertaining to an afterlife. He seemed much more comfortable talking about his family, his friends, Rainbow Mennonite, politics, Royals, KU basketball, his hopes for a more inclusive church, and a world without hate and bigotry.

John ended most every conversation and email with, “See you Sunday.” Yes, John. See you and Kathleen on that Great Sunday when God will at last, “wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)


John and Kathleen, December 2013



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