"Things you wouldn't take anything for:" TN vet finds medals in storm wreckage, against all odds
There was a time, not long ago, when Chester Bush could have pointed out his forever home with pride.
The army vet moved into the house in 2016, and had it just the way he liked it: a man cave lined with deer heads, pictures of his awards and commendations lining the walls.
The house sat toward the end of Henley Drive in Cookeville, Tennessee, a quiet suburb of a small town.
Quiet, that is, until last Thursday. That's when an EF 4 tornado ripped through Bush's neighborhood, taking his forever home and reducing it to a single concrete slab, and a small cinder block outline.
"This was the master bedroom," said Bush, pointing to a now-empty patch of muddy ground.
Bush and his wife were out of town when the tornadoes hit. When he finally made it through the checkpoints and saw the house, he figured everything was gone: the trophies, furniture, and perhaps most importantly, the medals and patches he picked up during 28 years in the army and army reserve.
"You know, things you wouldn't take anything for," said Bush.
So the army vet, like so many others, started digging.
"It's one of the hardest things I've ever done. I've been out here looking for things since Wednesday morning," he said.
Day after day, pile after pile, it was a fruitless search. Bush says his neighbors have recovered pictures and documents that were scattered as far as Knoxville, nearly 100 miles away. Those medals seemed as good as gone.
That is, until late Sunday, when Bush's friend had an idea.
"He suggested we crawl under the floor, the sub floor, of our neighbor's home because it was a direct line to mine," said Bush.
The neighbor's house had been wiped clean. Only the ground floor, plus the narrow crawl space underneath, remained.
"So we crawled in there and lo and behold, started finding Christmas cards that I'd saved, find a sack full with some of my rank and medals," said Bush. "It just goes on and on."
Bush knows that not everything that was lost on his street will ever be found. That forever home is forever gone.
But he says the medals he recovered, including his Bronze Star, are something he can hold on to, to get him through. '
"It makes it feel better, whatever I find," said Bush.