It was Sunday afternoon, August 31, 1918, and Lt. Carl Grimmer excitingly penned his parents that he had been “studying a French primer when who should ride up . . . but Kenneth Bush.” Grimmer exclaimed: “I surely was glad to see him. . . .” He explained that Bush “had heard that our battalion was close to his regiment and he made the trip over to where we were especially to see me.”
Lt. Merle Lummis passed along in a letter home that “he was just returning from the front line trenches when he met [Kenneth] Bush in an unexpected fashion.” The two men had attended grade school and Quincy High together. Then they both went to the University of Illinois where they were fraternity brothers.
Bush graduated from the University of Illinois in 1916 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering. While at the U of I he was an officer in the University Cadet Brigade, and on graduation he received a commission in the Illinois National Guard. With America’s entry into the Great War, Bush asked for and received an appointment as a second lieutenant in the Regular Army and reported for duty September 8, 1917.
Halfway around the world, in war torn France, the three Quincy men came across each other, and for a brief time found a little bit of home.
Grimmer was in the 123rd Machine Gun Battalion, 33rd [Illinois National Guard] Division. Lummis served in the 121st Field Artillery, 32nd [Wisconsin and Michigan National Guard] Division. Bush was with a supply company in the 4th Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.
It’s an old truth that an army needs beans and bullets to fight. Daily supplies have to be moved to the front. So each night Bush’s company using horse-drawn wagons moved food and ammunition to the front. He described one trip. “Well, to start with, we weren’t more than a mile out of town when one of the ammunition wagons got stuck and it took me three hours to get it out. I finally got up to the battalion in time to have my [wagon] train shelled, but luckily no one got hurt.” During the war, Bush served in five major engagements.
With the Great War’s end and the soldiers’ return, both Grimmer and Lummis returned to Quincy and resumed their lives. However, The Alumni Quarterly and Fortnightly Notes of the University of Illinois for October 1919 reported that “Capt. Kenneth B. Bush got into the army and never got out—-a regular for good. If you want to join the army, write to him. . . .”
In September 1918, the Daily Herald reported that Lt. Bush had “recently passed his examination for captaincy, only waiting now for the commission to be ratified. He is in charge of the supplies for nearly 4,000 men and is enjoying the military life to the very fullest.” For Kenneth Bush staying in the army was a logical choice. Thirty-seven years later he would leave the service.
Bush’s post-war service began as captain in the 64th Infantry regiment, but he soon became the adjutant for the 26th Infantry.
In June 1923, he was assigned to the Adjutant General’s Office where he worked on the World War Adjustment Compensation Act (Bonus). Whether the veteran received land or a cash payment, military bonuses were an accepted American practice for war-time service. World War I soldiers’ were no different, expecting a similar form of remuneration. Bush was involved in the “nuts and bolts” of the law enacted in 1924.
From 1925 to 1928, he saw duty in the Philippine Islands. On return he was back with Adjutant General’s Department.
However, the Great Depression temporarily changed Bush’s career. With his civil engineering degree, Bush was a perfect fit when the Regular Army provided officers to the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal public work relief program. Starting in 1933, Bush organized and administered the C. C. C. in Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The C. C. C. helped in reforestation, constructed trails, roads, lodges, and service buildings in state and national parks and forests, while building a network of public roadways in remote areas.
In September 1941, with the country preparing for World War II, Bush was assigned to the First Armored Corps and was involved in establishing the desert training center. But due to an unexpected change in duty stations in July 1942, he came within two weeks of shipping out for North Africa. Instead, Bush, now a colonel, was selected by General O’Connor, commander of the newly organized Northwest Service Command, to be his chief of staff.
The Northwest Service Command was charged with building a military highway to Alaska. After Pearl Harbor it was quickly decided that a road was needed to move military supplies to the soldiers fighting the Japanese in the Aleutians. Therefore, on February 2, 1942, the Alaska-Canada (Alcan) Highway project was given the go-ahead by the War Department. By March 9, the Army Corps of Engineers was surveying the rout. Eight months and eleven days later the project was complete. Combined 16,000 military and civilian workers built the 1,671 mile long road through a wild and mountainous region.
Back in Quincy in December 1942, Bush told the Herald-Whig that “’the magnitude of the undertaking, both in building and operating the highway, can scarcely be conceived. . . .’” He further explained: “’Never before has an attempt been made to build such a highway through such country and to operate over it vehicles in weather that goes 20 to 30 degrees below zero.’”
On May 20, 1949, Bush was promoted to brigadier general. Five months later he was appointed adjutant general of the Far East Command at Tokyo. He would serve under General MacArthur until the five-star general was relieved of command on April 10, 1951.
In May 1951, Brigadier General Bush was in Quincy visiting his mother and took questions from a Herald-Whig reporter. Regarding the Korean situation and the firing of General MacArthur, “‘General Bush had ‘no comment. . . .’”
For his final two years in the service, Bush was the Deputy Adjutant General for the U. S. Army. The position came with a second star and the rank of major general.
Major General Kenneth B. Bush died September 28, 1976 in Lake Worth, Florida and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The Alumni Quarterly and Fortnightly Notes of the University of Illinois. Illinois Alumni News, Vol. 5 No. 1, October 1, 1919.
Garfield, Brian. The Thousand-Mile War: World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians. Fairbanks: University of Alaska, 1969.
The Rattle of Theta Chi, 1942 and 1950.
The Quincy Daily Herald, August 14, 1917, July 20, 1918, September 28, 1918, November 7, 1918.
The Quincy Daily Journal, November 11, 1918.
The Quincy Daily Whig, September 24, 1918; November 7, 1918.
The Quincy Herald-Whig, August 2, 1942; December 23, 1942; May 20, 1951; June 26, 1951; August 26, 1951; October 6, 1976.
Stars and Stripes [Pacific Edition], October 24, 1949.
U.S. Army Military History Institute. Department of Defense Office of Public Information Press Branch, Major General Kenneth B. Bush, USA. September 5, 1950.
The Whitehorse Star, September 3, 1943.