John Bussell was born on November 17, 1919, in Coffeyville, Kansas. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve on November 20, 1942, and went on active duty to attend the Naval Reserve Midshipman's School in New York on March 16, 1943. Bussell was commissioned an Ensign on June 16, 1943, and then attended Civil Engineer training at the Naval Construction Training Center at Camp Peary, Virginia, from June to October 1943. He next attended Navy Combat Demolition training at Naval Amphibious Training Base Fort Pierce, Florida, from October 1943 to January 1944, followed by service with Navy Combat Demolition Unit 46 from January 1944 until he was killed in action while serving with Navy Combat Demolition Unit of Force "O" at Omaha Beach during the D-Day Invasion at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Ensign Bussell was buried at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
The Presidential Unit Citation awarded to Force "O" reads:
For outstanding performance in combat during the invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944. Determined and zealous in the fulfillment of an extremely hazardous mission, the Navy Combat Demolition Unit of Force "O" landed on the "Omaha Beach" with the first wave under devastating enemy artillery, machine-gun and sniper fire. With practically all explosives lost and with their force seriously depleted by heavy casualties, the remaining officers and men carried on gallantly, salvaging explosives as they were swept ashore and in some instances commandeering bull-dozers to remove obstacles. In spite of these grave handicaps, the Demolition Crews succeeded initially in blasting five gaps through enemy obstacles for the passage of assault forces to the Normandy shore and within two days had sapped over eighty-five percent of the "Omaha Beach" area of German-placed traps. Valiant in the face of grave danger and persistently aggressive against fierce resistance, the Navy Combat Demolition Unit rendered daring and self-sacrificing service in the performance of a vital mission, thereby sustaining the high traditions of the United States Naval Service.