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98-Year-Old WWII Veteran’s Survival Story Now Includes COVID-19

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Surviving COVID-19 at an advanced age is no small task.

When 98-year-old John Busch contracted it while staying at the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home, his family feared it would spell the end.

“(We thought) that was it,” said Busch’s daughter, Audrey Grobstein.

As of June 26, state officials said 13 residents of the home who received positive COVID-19 test results had passed away either at the facility, the hospital or another skilled nursing facility.

Somehow, though, Busch made it to mid-July and by all accounts was recovering.

“I’m a survivor?” Busch laughed during an interview via FaceTime last week. “Well, I tell you what! Because I’m a survivor give me a Hershey bar with almonds!”

Then again, simply surviving was nothing new for Busch.

According to his family, he lied about his age (16) in 1939 and enlisted in the Air Force to serve in World War II.

In 25 bombing missions, his planes went down twice.

“The first one was (when) they ran out of gas,” the daughter said. “They just luckily made it to the beach of Lahinch, Ireland.”

The emergency landing of the B-24 bomber known as the ‘Travellin’ Trollop’ in 1943 is still remembered there today and was honored in 1993 with a plaque that bears the name of Busch and the other crew members.

On the second time, Nazi fighters shot down Busch’s plane over the English Channel. Eight of the 10 crew members died.

“The nickname of the plane was the ‘Flying Coffin,’” recalled son-in-law Mike Grobstein. “It was just fate that he got out of that plane.”

Mike and Audrey Grobstein

Audrey Grobstein said her dad was in the right place at the right time.

“My dad just happened to be by a window and it sucked him out,” she said.

Busch added that he tried to position himself by an opening in the plane.

“I had to get to that because now I know there’s something wrong and I have to get out of this thing,” Busch said. “The centrifugal force set in and I could hardly move. My face — the skin felt like it was coming off.”

Busch said he wasn’t sure how he was able to pull the ripcord on his parachute after he was sucked out of the plane.

“Everything from that day it’s just like somebody put my hands on it like, ‘do this, that’s right, do that, that’s right,’” Busch said. “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.”

Mike Grobstein said Busch’s story of survival has continued into old age.

“He had a heart attack with several bypasses, stints put in, prostate cancer that he survived, skin cancer where they had to take off part of his ear,” the son-in-law said. “He’s now tested negative twice in a row and declared as having COVID at 98-years-old.”

At the same time, Busch was talking about his war stories that now include surviving the novel coronavirus, he was joking about even bolder tests.

“I wouldn’t mind jumping off the Empire State Building and seeing if I could survive that!” Busch said.

The Grobsteins said, simply, Busch is a fighter with a ‘never-give-up’ spirit.

“He is strong and wants to keep going,” Busch’s daughter said. “He’s not ready to give in.”

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