WRITTEN BY: YVONNE ADDINGTON
It has been almost 40 years since Tualatin resident Brian Lee Bushnell, then just 21, was declared missing in action over North Vietnam seas. So it was quite a surprise to receive an inquiry (via the City of Tualatin to the Tualatin Historical Society) from Candace Lokey of the National League of POW/ MIA Families, regarding Bushnell, whose last address was listed as Tualatin, Oregon.
A check of local “old timers” and newspaper articles revealed the Bushnell family had long ago moved from Tualatin and little was known about them. But we just could not forget a Tualatin man who gave his life for our country.
Candace Lokey of the POW/MIA League Families of Freeport, Pennsylvania reinforced our resolve to find out information about the life and service of Bushnell. Lokey explained the work of the League:
“It is primarily interested in a photo, any newspaper articles that may have appeared at the time of his loss and any family information you might have. We are in the process of putting faces to the names of the 1,737 missing in action/prisoners of war. We only need 68 more.”
“We found out in the process that the military casualty office and the military departments charged with trying to locate these men do not have all the photos. There aren’t photos in all the military records either. I have been providing copies to the military offices that “should” have them. When questioned as to why they didn’t have them, I was reminded that they are responsible for all wars, not just Southeast Asia and that they are working on it. They have even lost contact with family members due to deaths, marriages or moving and new contact information not being provided. It’s very sad that some of these men no longer have family. We are working to make sure these men are not forgotten and that they are remembered as men not just statistics. Members of the League all have family members that are still unaccounted for in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.”
“We don’t want to invade anyone’s privacy. If the photo is in a high school annual or newspaper, that’s fine. If a family member is known and they want to send a copy of one of their photos for our files, that’s fine too. We would appreciate any assistance you can provide.”
Following is a compilation of information provided through internet inquiries and networking. After more “history detective” work, we finally found his youngest brother Scott Bushnell, his only immediate survivor. Scott lives in Lake Forest Park, Washington and provided most of the information about Brian’s family and life before the military. He also provided two photographs of Brian in military uniform, the last one taken for his 21st birthday in March 1970 and just before he went missing. Brian liked the photo according to Scott. Brian Lee Bushnell was born March 9, 1949 to Charles and Marilyn Bushnell. Brian was the oldest, then Bruce, then Scott. The family lived in the Norwood area west of I-5 freeway. He attended Tualatin Elementary School and graduated from Tigard High School in 1968. Brian joined the Navy and with the rank of E3 Technician served in the Carrier Early Warning Squadron 116 aboard the USS Coral Sea.
The USS Coral Sea, USS Hancock and USS Ranger formed Task Force 77, the carrier striking force of the U.S. Seventh Fleet in the Western Pacific and participated in combat action against the Communists. Aircraft from her squadrons flew in the first U.S. Navy strikes against targets in North Vietnam, and reconnaissance aircraft from her decks returned with the first photograph of Surface-to-Air Missiles in North Vietnam.
For those too young to remember, according to Wikipedia, the Vietnam War was a military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1959 to April 30, 1975. The war was fought between the Communist allies and the government of South Vietnam, supported by the United States and other member nations of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). The war exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities, including 3 to 4 million Vietnamese from both sides of Vietnam, 1.5 to 2 million Laotians and Cambodians. U.S casualties numbered 58,209 dead, 153,303 wounded and 2489 missing.
According to POW Network sources, “On April 9, 1970, Technician Seamen Brian Bushnell and Andrew A Horcher Jr. accompanied E2A pilot LTJG Charles B. Pfaffmann and his co-pilot LT Larry C. Knight assigned to Carrier Early Warning Squadron 116 onboard the USS Coral Sea. They were launched in their E2A Hawkeye on a routine mission over Vietnam. Immediately after launch, the aircraft crew reported a fire and their intention to return to the ship.
The aircraft impacted the water about three miles ahead of the USS Coral Sea. A rescue helicopter and escort destroyer were on the scene within minutes. No survivors were seen, and no remains were recovered.” The Network added “The crew of the Hawkeye is listed among the missing because their remains were never found to send home to the country they served. They died a tragically ironic death in the midst of war. But, for their families, the case seems clear that the men died on that day. The fact that they have no bodies to bury with honor is not of great significance.” There were 69 combat losses on the USS Coral Sea which served over Laos and North Vietnam according to the website of the USS Coral Sea.
According to Scott Bushnell, it wasn’t long after the family was notified that Brian was missing in action that they were re-notified that Brian’s status was changed to Killed in Action (KIA). Brian’s family tragedies continued. His younger brother Bruce died in 1973 of Hodgkin’s Disease. His father, Charles Bushnell owned a liquor store in Portland’s Rockwood District and was murdered in a store robbery in 1974. His mother Marilyn Mullin Bushnell remarried Kenneth Cuddeford of Tualatin whose children Judith, Carol Lee, Gary still survive, and Diane, deceased. After Cuddeford died, Marilyn remarried Miles Larson. Marilyn Larson died on October 8, 2009. She is survived by son Scott Bushnell, his wife and three children of Lake Forest Park, Washington. Services were held for Mrs. Larson on October 19, 2009 at Tigard United Methodist Church where the family attended.
Memorial markers for Brian Bushnell can be found at Willamette National Cemetery and at the Vietnam Memorial and in Washington Park in Portland. To help insure that Brian will be remembered locally, the Tualatin Historical Society will display an engraved brick in the Tualatin Heritage Center garden. Also according to Dale Potts of Tualatin’s VFW Post 3452, a plaque has been prepared in Brian’s memory for perpetual display at the new Post. The Tualatin Historical Society will sponsor brother Scott’s membership into the VFW Men’s Auxiliary if he so desires, so he can have membership privileges and access to the new building whenever he is in town to see and show the plaque. Brian’s service qualifies Scott to join. Mayor Lou Ogden invited Yvonne Addington, President of Tualatin Historical Society, Dale Potts of the VFW and Scott Bushnell to the November 9 City Council meeting to lead the flag salute and receive a city proclamation declaring November 11, 2009 as Navy Airman Brian Bushnell day in Tualatin.
Scott has provided pictures of Brian in uniform, including one that Brian particularly liked, to the National League of POW/MIA Families, and described Brian’s family. The Tualatin Historical Society is providing the POW/MIA Families organization with copies of all the local articles published. Both VFW and THS will post this story on their websites. Tualatin will not forget Brian Bushnell. He served us well.