George HW Bush remembered as WWII hero at funeral

Matt Saintsing
December 05, 2018 - 3:42 pm

Photo Coutesy of U.S. Navy

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Friends, family members, and loved ones gathered Wednesday to remember the late-President George HW Bush with one common thread shining throughout, patriotism. 

During the funeral service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., political heavy-hitters eulogized Bush, reflecting on a lifetime of service to the nation he so revered.  

As the last American president to serve in WWII, presidential historian Jon Meachem spoke in vivid detail about the fiery plane crash Bush experienced as a young naval aviator in the Pacific theatre during World War II. 

“The story was almost over before it had fully begun,” said Meachem. 

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Navy

Shortly after dawn on Saturday, September 2, 1944, Lieutenant Junior Bush, joined by two crewmates, took off from the USS San Jacinto to attack a radio tower on Chichijima, an island south of Japan. 

“The air was heavy with flak, the plane was hit,” he said. “Smoke filled the cockpit.” 

He continued, “flames raced across the wings. ‘My God,’ Lt. Bush thought, ‘this thing is going to go down.’” 

Nevertheless, a 20-year-old Bush kept his aircraft at a 35-degree dive, dropped his bombs and flew out to sea, unsure of his fate. “Hit the silk,” he told his crewmates, an expression used by naval aviators to bail out. 

Bush maneuvered the aircraft so they could exit the plane as safely as possible. “Only then,” said Meachem, “did Bush parachute from the cockpit.” 

“And in a sense, the rest of his life was a perennial effort to prove himself worthy of his salvation on that distant morning,” said Meachem. 

That effort would bring him to the highest levels of government, serving as a CIA director, Vice President, and ultimately, the 41st President of the United States. 
Still, like many of his generation, Bush kept quiet until the bright lights of a national stage left him with no choice. 

“He never talked about his service until his time as a public figure forced his hand,” said President George W. Bush. “We learned of the attack, the mission completed, the shoot-down. We learned of the death of his crewmates whom he thought about throughout his entire life. And we learned of the rescue.” 

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who served during Bush's presidency, remembered Bush as the Commander-in-Chief. They eventually became lifelong friends. 

One of the lighter moments in an otherwise cloudy day came when Mulroney recounted Bush’s first NATO meeting in Brussels. 

“George was taking copious notes, as the heads of government spoke,” Mulroney said. “We were all limited in time. But, you know, it's very flattering to have the president of the United States take notes as you speak.”

However, Steingrímur Hermannsson, the Prime Minister of Iceland at the time, was much more tedious and rambled longer than any of the other world leaders sitting around the table. He was forced to end abruptly only when the Secretary of General of NATO called a coffee break. 

“George put down his pen, walked over to me and said, ‘Brian, I’ve just learned the fundamental principle of international affairs: the smaller the country, the longer the speech.’”

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