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Parade of a century, and then some

Navy vet Davis Bussey celebrates his 106th birthday at the Paloma Landing Independent Retirement Living facility on Wednesday with a drive-by parade of police cruisers, vintage and modern fire trucks, and 1970s muscle cars. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

What do you get a U.S. Navy veteran for his 106th birthday?

Davis May Bussey got a parade.

As a law enforcement helicopter circled above, vintage and modern fire trucks, police cruisers and 1970s muscle cars conducted a drive-by parade Wednesday in front of the Paloma Landing Independent Living campus, where Bussey has lived for the past decade.

“I’m very honored, very humbled and very thankful that so many people went out of their way for me today,” said Bussey, who is known to his friends as Dave and to members of his extended family as Bear.

The parade and presentation of gifts, including a certificate of appreciation “for having served faithfully and honorably in the United States Navy,” were coordinated by the management of Paloma Landing, the state Department of Veterans Services and members of Bussey’s family.

Highlighting parts of his long life, Bussey said he was born July 15, 1914, on a 275-acre cotton farm in Modoc, South Carolina. “I had three brothers and two sisters. I was cotton picker No. 3. I never really enjoyed the work and had a strong desire to travel.”

Around the time he turned 18, he saw posters with the slogan “Join the Navy and see the world.” He remembered thinking, “‘That’s just right for me.’ So, in 1932, I enlisted, and went through boot camp and was selected to attend radio operator school.”

He was aboard the battleship New York when it led a flotilla of 13 war ships into New York Harbor. The city was good to him. Bussey and two shipmates were in Central Park when they met the three Schimmer sisters. He and Kay Schimmer hit it off.

“After our first date, thinking I was doing what was expected, I attempted to give her a goodnight kiss and she smacked me in the face.”

Despite that grievous offense, the couple later married and raised three children; they had been together for 60 years when Kay died in 1997.

His last assignment before he left the Navy in 1937 was aboard the USS Langley, the Navy’s first aircraft carrier.

Rejoining civilian life, the newly married Bussey took a job as an aviation radioman with the federal Bureau of Air Commerce, and later became an air traffic controller. The bureau, he said, “had landing fields every 50 miles along the civil airway, and I was assigned to Acomita, N.M.” Subsequent assignments took him to El Paso, Washington, D.C., Ardmore, Oklahoma, Santa Fe and Albuquerque, where he eventually became a manager of the Albuquerque Flight Service Station, retiring in 1972.

“After I retired, my wife said she wanted to see Hawaii,” Bussey recalled. “So, in 1973, we went there and she liked it so much she said we have to come back. So we did. Every year for 20 years, we spent the entire month of January in Hawaii.”

In 2011, Bussey’s family took him to see Paloma Landing. “We got here just as they were starting lunch, and everybody was sitting in the dining room laughing and talking, and just having a ball. I said, ‘this is for me.’ ”

Asked his secret to a long life, Bussey said he never smoked, exercises daily and eats healthy.

Despite that, he confessed, his hearing isn’t as good as it once was.

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