Trip to Albania reveals Edward Bushka’s astonishing deeds/
BY MARC SILVESTRINI*/
Every child grows up thinking his dad’s a hero. Few have the notion confirmed in as a dramatic a fashion as Eddie Bushka did about five years ago. Bushka, 41, is the son of Bushka & Lumber& Millwork Co. on Fairfield Avenue in Waterbury and founder of American Millwork and Lumber on Wolcott Street.
The elder Bushka hails from the small town of Pilur in the district of Korca in southeastern Albania. His hometown is about 12 miles west of Albania’s lengthy border with Greece.
During 2007 family visit to his father’s hometown, Eddie met an elderly resident who clearly remembered his father and tearfully confirmed many of the brave and heroic acts Edward Bushka performed in the region in the early 1950s.
“It’s one thing to hear all these stories about your father while you’re growing up; I’m sure every kid hears lots of stories about the stuff his dad did as a young man,” Eddie said. “But it’s really something else to have these stories retold and validated by a tearful, sobbing, nearly 100-years-old man who actually was there.”
“I couldn’t believe some of the things he told me about what my dad did during those years. That’s an experience I’ll never forget.”
In 1950, five years after Albania fell to an authoritarian socialist movement fronted by Enver Hoxha, Edward Bushka, then 19 years old, and his father, Halil, were forced to flee across the Pindus Mountains to Greece.
Their flight to freedom-conducted in the company of about 25 fellow Korcan refugees- came shortly after they had been warned by a friend that, as land owners, their lives were in danger.
The two Bushkas were forced to leave Edward’s mother and seven siblings behind.
“The thought of leaving my family behind like that was a terrible thing,” Bushka said, speaking from his comfortable, well-appointed Wolcott Street office. “That was over 60 years ago, and thinking about that night still bothers me today.”
Once in Greece, Bushka was one of about 10 members of his group recruited by a shadowy, multinational, quasi-military agency that was based in Greece and opposed to the Communist regime in Albania, which had been renamed the People’s Republic of Albania.
To this day, he can’t precisely identify the group that recruited him and can shed little light on its purpose or ultimate fate. He can say that the group was in constant need of intelligence from within Albania, including information on troop strength and movements, the location of supply routes, and updated lists of Albanians who had been imprisoned or killed.
“We were young, we were angry…” Bushka recalls.
“They asked us if we were interested in helping get the Communists out of Albania. So we kept going back.”
Bushka and his compatriots would sneak across the mountains, usually under the cover of darkness, gather information and escape back to Greece.
During one mission, Bushka learned that group of Communist leaders had arrived in the Korca region to attend a high-level meeting. He immediately began hatching a plot to welcome the visitors to southeastern Albania by detonating a bomb.
He was talked out of the scheme by the elderly man his son Eddie would meet during the family’s 2007 trip to Pilur.
With tears streaming down his face, the old man told Eddie that planting that bomb would have a suicide mission. A successful detonation would also have triggered harsh and deadly reprisals by the Communists against the helpless townspeople of Korca.
“He was crying as he was telling me the story, “Eddie recalls. To him, it was still a very emotional.”
BUSHKA ESTIMATES HE completed about 15 missions into Albania in four years. Three or four out 10 men in his original recruiting class were killed trying to feed information back to Greece.
Bushka himself was shot at a number of times, but managed to survive with nothing more damaging than a pair of bullet holes in his coat.
His most important mission took place in 1952, when he led a team back into Pilur to liberate six of his younger siblings. The rescue party included a donkey, because Bushka realized his youngest sister, then 8, and his 5 year-old brother could not cross the rugged mountains without help.
Sadly, the party did not include Edward’s mother, Haxhire, and youngest brother, Skender whom the Communists had moved far from Pilur, presumably because Skender was born blind. Bushka and his siblings were not reunited with their mother and brother until the 1991 collapse of the regime.
The memory of his siblings being reunited with their father, Halil, brings a warm smile to Bushka’s face. Edward and Halil had been separated shortly after arriving in Greece, when Halil was moved to a different refugee camp.
The two hadn’t seen each other for two years, and Halil had no idea his son was running intelligence missions, much less had rescued most of the family.
“He couldn’t believe his ears when the people at his refugee camp told him his family had arrived,” Bushka recalls, “he couldn’t believe they were going to be reunited, that they had all been brought across the mountains.”
BUSHKA AND HIS FAMILY came to the United States in 1954 and settled in Waterbury, which was already the home of several relatives.
The family’s arrival in New York happened to be picked up by a television news crew. The ensuing network broadcast attracted the attention of a young Waterbury native of Albanian descent, Margarita Prifty.
“I first saw him on TV and thought he was adorable,” Margarita says today, 58 years after that broadcast and 54 years after her marriage to the young man she first saw on a tiny, black-and-white TV screen.
Today, the couple has five children, four of whom work at the family business, and nine grandchildren.
When Bushka came to Waterbury, he went to work at Lescare Kitchens as a cabinet maker. He stayed for two weeks, as long as it took him to familiarize himself with modern American power tools and equipment.
Once he understood how everything worked, he borrowed $10,000 from an uncle and opened his own cabinetmaking business and small hardware and tool retail store. Utilizing the basement of the William Street house in which he was living, he specialized in small cabinet making and carpentry jobs at homes and businesses in his neighborhood.
Within six months, Edward and four of his younger brothers opened Bushka Lumber and Millwork on Fairfield Avenue, a business the four brothers operated together for the next 40 years.
BY 1994, THE BUSHKA CLAN found it increasingly difficult for all family members to coexist in s single business. So the brothers split into three separate entities, with Steve remaining at Bushka Lumber; Jimmy opening a new lumberyard on Highs Street in Naugatuck called H. J. Bushka & Sons Lumber Co; and Edward and Margarita opening American Millwork and lumber on a 13-acre parcel at 625 Wolcott St. that had once been a car dealership.
Today, Bushka runs his business surrounded by his family, much as he’s done since first setting foot in America.