Aside from meeting the older of the two Presidents Bush, I had two other points of reference for him. The first was when I heard him denounce the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait at the VFW Convention in Baltimore on Aug. 20, 1990.
The second was in 2003, when I met Class of 1971 Army Capt. William Hancock, who had been nominated to West Point by his then Texas Congressman, George H.W. Bush.
Ever since George Herbert Walker Bush (President 41) first ran for the Presidency of the United States in 1980 against the late Ronald Reagan, it became increasingly popular for his political opponents in both major parties to term him a wimp, but consider the following:
Noted writer Don McLean in his 1988 piece entitled, Uncommon Valor, ""This skinny, gutsy kid who enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday against the wishes of his father, was then the youngest flier in the Navy. When reminded that the Japanese who shot him down over Chichi Jima were wont to butcher captured US airmen for the sukiyaki and soup, Bush quipped, 'I would hardly have made an hors d'oeuvre!'"
Stated the citation that Bush received with his Distinguished Flying Cross, "Opposed by intense anti-aircraft fire, his plane was hit and set afire as he commenced his dive. In spite of smoke and flames from the fire on his plane, he continued in his dive and scored damaging hits on the radio station before bailing out of his plane.
"His courage and complete disregard for his own safety---both in pressing home his attack in the face of intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire, and in continuing his dive on the target after being hit and his plane on fire---were at all times in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
George Bush flew his combat missions in the Pacific war against the planes of the Imperial Japanese Navy/IJN in the famed TBF Avenger aircraft.
Asserted author Joe Hyams in his excellent 1991 study, Flight of the Avenger: George Bush at War, "Tall as he was" (6'2") "George Bush was dwarfed by his aircraft. The TBF Avenger of World War II was the largest single-engine, carrier-based plane in the world.
"The standard joke among the pilots was that---weighing eight tons---it could fall faster than it could fly!"
At fully 18' high, it towered over the carrier's deck, was 40' long, and had a 54' wingspan, down to 19' feet with folded wings, though. Painted dark blue on top like all US Navy aircraft, the Avenger featured also a white underbelly for its fuselage and also its wings.
Added Hyams, "On the ground...it's huge belly bulging with a ton of bombs, it looked like some aberrant barnyard fowl... known throughout the Navy as The Pregnant Turkey," but despite this moniker, young pilot Bush came to love his very own TBF as it flew in the air virtually effortlessly.
Responding to his every touch on its controls no matter how slight, the aircraft in his view had few faults. True, it flew ponderously, but steadily nonetheless, and its landing approach flight was far more consistent---and thus dependable---than almost any other smaller, faster fighter airplane of which he could even think.
Characterized as, "Stable, sturdy, adaptable, and slow until it nosed over into a dive," the TBF Avenger---due to its inherent design---"Accelerated with remarkable speed."
Adds Aircraft: World Wars I and II, edited by Jeff Daniels, the deadly torpedo bomber could accommodate a two- or three-man crew, had a power plant of a single 1,850 horsepower Wright Cyclone GR-2600-8 engine, and first entered active service in 1942.
Its highly lethal armament consisted of, "Two 13mm machineguns in the wings, one 13mm machinegun in the dorsal turret, one 8mm machinegun in the ventral location, one 871 kilogram 56cm torpedo---or up to 454 kg (a thousand pounds) of bombs; and eight 8 cm rockets below the wings if required."
As for performance, the airplane's maximum speed was 259 miles per hour at 11,200 feet. Its service ceiling was 23,000 feet, and its maximum range was 1,910 miles! Empty, it weighed 10,600 pounds; loaded, the weight jumped upward to 16,300 pounds.
Here are some more details, as found in the 1988 volume by Enzo Angelucci and Paolo Matricardi entitled, Combat Aircraft of World War II, 1942-43: "Intended to replace the TBD Devastator in the role of carrier-based torpedo plane, the Grumman TBF Avenger made its debut in combat during the same event in which the old Douglas monoplane dramatically left the scene, in June 1942, during the Battle of Midway.
"It was not a successful debut: of the six Avengers that took part in the action, five didn't return to the aircraft carrier Hornet, and---in addition---the attacks on the Japanese naval squadron did not produce one hit.
"Nevertheless, this initial failure was fully redeemed by the aircraft's subsequent career: the large and heavy Grumman torpedo plane eventually proved to be one of the Navy's strong points during the last three years of the war."
Fully 9,836 aircraft rolled off American assembly lines in a variety of versions up to June 1945, and saw distinguished combat action over both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean Theaters of War. Several even remained in active front service until nine years after the end of the war, in 1954.
In addition to seeing combat action wearing US insignia, the British Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm deployed 858, and New Zealand used others, too. Postwar, Avengers saw active duty in France, Canada, The Netherlands, and even in Japan.
Launched on Apr. 8, 1940, the Navy ordered a pair of prototypes from both Grumman and Chance Vought for a new carrier-based torpedo plane designated XTBF-1 and XTBU-1 respectively.
"Although they had no previous experience of this particular type of combat plane, the Grumman technicians fully exploited the company's long tradition of building Navy fighters, and succeeded in creating a prototype that was far superior to its rival."
The plane's maiden flight occurred on Aug. 1, 1941. The aircraft was a large, all-metal, mid-wing monoplane that featured retractable landing gear, had a three-man crew, and could carry in equal weight either a torpedo or bombs. The engine powered a triple-bladed, variable pitch, metal propeller.
Grumman flight tests were succeeded by serial evaluation US Navy tests as well, ending in December 1941. The first TBF-1 rolled off the assembly lines on Jan. 3, 1942 for the start-up order of 286 planes, with 85 having been delivered by the following May.
Despite its poor debut at Midway, demand for the new aircraft still increased, with Grumman manufacturing 2,293 TBF-1s.
This total was also backed up by General Motors' Eastern Aircraft Company, which also built it under licensing as the designated TBM. Meanwhile, the original project developed more.
In spring 1942---after the construction of an XTBF-2 prototype with a better and stronger power plant---the variant TBF-3 was made, and fitted out with a 2,000 hp Wright Cyclone engine that had several noteworthy improvements.
Among these were its increased bomb load capacity, and was made exclusively by Eastern Aircraft, that finished 4,664 and entered service in April 1944 for the final year-plus of the war in the Far East.
Britain's Royal Navy got 222, and these went on to unit equipping on its aircraft carriers HMS Formidable, Illustrious, Indefatigable, and Victorious. The final Avenger was the XTBM-4. Both its fuselage and wings were reinforced, but it never got beyond its prototype stage, however.
Major production variants occurred in several sub-series, morphing into many different configurations, such as aerial photo-recon, passenger transportation, nighttime tracking with infrared gear, target towing, anti-submarine tracking, and assault.
The Avenger received its name due to its being placed in mass production shortly after the IJN sneak attack at Pearl Harbor, HI on Dec. 7, 1941.
Prior to flying the Avenger, pilot-trainee George Bush flew several other aircraft, such as the NP-IS trainer and the Stearman N2S-3 that was known as the Yellow Peril and the Washing Machine, as numerous pilots had washed out because of it.
Bush also had flown the Vultee Vibrator, the AT-6 Texan, and the famous F4U Corsair. He began flight school on Nov. 10, 1942, where he was termed, "An outstanding student," and made his first night flight the following Feb. 1, 1943.
After a near crash into snow and ice, Bush began the second stage of his training in Texas starting Feb. 18, 1943, excelling at airplane identification. Receiving both his coveted pilot's wings and his commission as a Navy officer on June 9, 1943, Bush shortly afterward made his initial landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Sable.
At Chincoteague Naval Air Station---between Maryland's Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean---Bush and his unit finished their training, and the new squadron VT-51 was assigned to Hyannis Port, MA, the home base of another NAS, as well as of a second future US President who fought in the Navy in World War II, young Jack Kennedy.
On Dec. 15, 1943, Bush's unit was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto, and that day witnessed its commissioning as well at Philadelphia.
Noted Hyams, "The San Jacinto was a war-born hybrid. When her keel was laid, she was to have been the cruiser Newark, but American experiences at Pearl Harbor and Midway had determined that more aircraft carriers were needed, so---while still on the ways---she was redesigned to become the light carrier, Reprisal.
"After the sinking of the USS Houston, the citizens of that city patriotically doubled their bond drive to replace the missing cruiser. The extra money was contributed for another ship, which the Houstonians chose to name San Jacinto, in honor of the battle that took place there on Apr. 21, 1836, when Gen. Sam Houston's small army of Texans---outnumbered almost 2-to-1---defeated the Mexican dictator Gen. Antonio de Lopez de Santa Ana, and preserved the independence of the Texas Republic."
Rushed to completion, the San Jacinto's fitting out time was halved, and she also advanced into commissioning by six weeks. Termed "ugly" by some, she was still functional as she slid down the ways, flying the Lone Star banner below the US Stars and Stripes on her masthead.
Built with a sleek cruiser hull, the nicknamed San Jac had, "A high center of gravity with a bulky hangar deck and a narrow wooden flight deck that ran almost her full length. Instead of the armor plate that protected most carriers, she had only the thin steel skin of a merchantman."
San Jac boasted a fuel oil capacity of 500,000 gallons, plus 100,000 gallons of aviation gasoline to boot.
Noted Hyams, "A direct hit to any of her vital areas would've turned her into a flaming inferno. She was built to be expendable, having cost less to build than a conventional carrier, but none of this was important. What did count was that she could steam at 34 knots and operate 34 planes: 25 fighters and nine torpedo bombers."
She came in at 14,399 tons, and was considered to be "One of the finest aircraft carriers in the Navy."
The ship sailed into combat action on May 2, 1944 as part of Task Force 58, in which it would take part in Operation Forager, the codename for the invasion of the Japanese-held Marianas Islands.
On May 21, 1944, pilot George Bush found himself under enemy fire for the first time, in an attack on enemy installations on both Marcus and Wake Islands. Later, Bush would recall, "The first sight of the antiaircraft bursts made a lasting impression on me."
The invasion of enemy-held Saipan was about to start, and on June 11, 1944, 15 US carriers, "Launched a strike of more than 230 planes against Saipan and nearby Aslito airfield. During this mission, fighter planes of the San Jac shot down their first enemy aircraft: a Japanese Betty attack bomber and an Emily flying boat.
"The ship also lost its own first pilot, shot down over the island and killed in the crash."
On June 14th, Bush dodged enemy flak bursts, and strafed and bombed Japanese targets for more than five hours, and even hit one of Saipan's important coastal guns under heavy fire.
Two days later, Bush bombed another enemy-held island, Guam, today a possession of the United States, and also where my late uncle Bruce Gilley of Vienna, VA served while in the Navy as an enlisted seaman.
Bush's first forced landing came on June 19th, as he told his crew, "We just lost all our oil! We're going to have to ditch. Prepare for a water landing!"
Noted Hyams, "Any sea landing is hazardous, because the pilot has to hit the crest of a wave into the wind. If he doesn't hit just right, the plane can cartwheel. This time, his landing was even more perilous, because the Avenger was carrying four 500-pound depth charges.
"There wasn't time enough to jettison them, so Bush flew ahead of the fleet. During his childhood in Maine---and later on in flight training---he'd learned to gauge wind velocity and the height of the waves. He estimated the winds to be about 15 knots, with a light chop on the sea, so he trimmed the nose of the plane as high as possible without risking a stall."
Bush had never made such a landing, but he managed to do it in true textbook style, though, tail first, putting the huge aircraft onto the water's surface. His crew was safely rescued by the destroyer USS C.K. Bronson.
This was the first---but certainly not the last!---that Bush's good luck in combat saved his life.
He named his first Avenger after his fiancée Barbara at home. I was photographed with her in the background---unknown to me!---during President Bush's 1992 reelection campaign in my home Free State of Maryland by my then boss, Maryland 2nd District Republican Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley, born 1923. I can't however, say that I met the still much admired former First Lady of the United States, whom her husband later dubbed The Silver Fox. He named his wartime plane, however---the third Bush Avenger---Barbara III.
Following his first night landing on a lit-up carrier deck, Bush made 13 air strikes against the enemy for 46 hours of combat flight for the month of July 1944 alone. His plane---rigged with special cameras---also took aerial recon photos of Japanese-held Palau Island that, "Received high praise from authorities in Pearl Harbor and were used as guides in subsequent landing operations."
With the Marianas Campaign behind him, Ensign Bush was promoted to lieutenant junior grade, and on Aug. 28, 1944, was headed on the San Jac for Palau and the Bonin Islands that included Chichi Jima.
Recalled Hyams, "Three days of air strikes were planned, beginning on Aug. 31st, and supporting cruisers and destroyers moved in to shell the islands. VT-51's primary target for the Sept. 1st air strikes was a radio tower on Chichi Jima. The tower wasn't destroyed, and as Bush and the rest of his squadron headed back to the San Jac, they knew they would have to return.
"Once again, they would have to dive down through flak toward the tower on the slope of Yoake Peak."
George Bush's rendezvous with destiny was now at hand. The island was 150 miles north of Iwo Jima, and in 1875, the Japanese had claimed it to help protect the Imperial mainland from sea attack. In 1914, it was finally fortified as World War I began.
Besides heavy artillery pieces dug-in on its slopes, there was also a Naval radio station and weather center, plus a base and antiaircraft defenses.
American air raids had begun on June 15, 1944, and the US pilots shot down were officially listed as Missing in Action, or MIAs.
Stated Hyams, "The fate of Allied airmen captured by the Japanese was often grim; reports of grisly deaths---prisoners beheaded, or used for bayonet practice---reached Allied intelligence, and the pilots were warned.
"Squadrons in the Pacific were shown a picture---purportedly taken by a Japanese soldier on Chichi Jima---that showed a Japanese officer lifting a Samurai sword about to behead a bound and blindfolded Australian aviator. The photograph was later reproduced in Life magazine, and Bush recalls having seen it and thinking that if a pilot survived a crash in the water, it would be far better to drown than be captured by the Japanese."
What Lt. Bush and his fellow pilots didn't know, however, was even worse, Hyams charged: "American prisoners were being mistreated in a way that defies belief. Several of the Korean laborers reported after the war that many of the captured pilots had been executed and then cut into pieces---and eaten."
My own former boss as a Maryland Congresswoman---Republican Helen Delich Bentley---based much of her tenure in Congress on being anti-Japanese up to her leaving it in 1994.
In addition, I conducted one of the last interviews he ever gave with the late Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein. At the end of the war, he served as an American Army prosecutor in Manila against Japanese war criminals. He never lost his disdain for the Japanese, he told me. Neither did the IRA-assassinated British Lord Mountbatten of Burma, who asserted in his Will that he wanted no Official Japanese representative at his funeral, due to their atrocities carried out during the war on British POWs.
This, then, was the island over which Lt. George Bush, USN, was soon to be shot down. Like JFK also, he would narrowly escape capture and death, and live to make it to the White House decades later, but barely.
On Sept. 2, 1944, they went back, with Bush piloting the third plane in the attack, diving into a 30-degree glide onto the radio tower. Later, Bush's wingman---Milton Moore---recalled of the enemy that, "They had a lot of antiaircraft there, in a situation where they could get you in a crossfire whichever way you came in."
The day before, they'd lost a man in the same run. Asserted McLean, "Before the war was over, Bush's squadron was to lose none of the original 14 pilots."
Then, "Bush flew into a maelstrom of flak and ground fire, taking a hit in an oil line that set his engine on fire." Remembered Squadron Commander Don Melvin, "You could've seen that smoke for a hundred miles."
Continued Hyams, "Determined to finally destroy the tower, Bush used no evasive tactics, and held the plane directly on the target. His vision ahead was occasionally cancelled by bursts of black smoke from the Japanese antiaircraft guns. The plane was descending through thickening clouds of flak pierced by the flaming arcs of tracers.
"There was a sudden flash of light, followed by an explosion. 'The plane was lifted forward, and we were enveloped in flames," Bush recalled. 'I saw the flames running along the wings where the fuel tanks were, and where the wings fold. I thought, 'This is really bad!
"'It's hard to remember the details, but I looked at the instruments and couldn't see then for the smoke.'"
Rejoins McLean, "Bush could not have been faulted if he'd jettisoned his bomb load and headed back out to sea to ditch as close as he could to the San Jacinto, but he didn't. Bravery under fire is not a trait which looks for excuses to cover one's backside..."
Remembered Bush, "There was a procedure to get on the radio to notify any submarine in the area, or hope you're notifying them. You just go to a certain frequency, but I didn't know if I was transmitting, or not."
Flying behind him, Moore stated later, "He got hit and went on in, smoking. I pulled up on him, then he lost power, and I sailed by him. My gunner was the only one who could see behind us, and he called, 'Chutes!'"
Added McLean, "After completing his bomb run, Bush headed back out to sea, leveling off at 1,500 feet to give his crew a chance to bail out. When Bush jumped over the side, he was struck by the TBM's tail, and he pulled his ripcord too soon; the 'chute then caught on the tail, and ripped out several panels.
"Falling too fast---and stunned by the blow to his head---Bush drifted toward the Japanese island, but managed to slip his 'chute before he hit the water. His seat pack life raft had fallen free, and a Hellcat from his flight dove on it to mark it, as Bush swam for it.
"Swimming toward the raft, he was stung by a Portuguese man-o-war, and climbed aboard the raft, checking his .38 revolver, and splashed Mercurochrome on his head injury."
I interject here that exiting a stricken combat aircraft under any such stressful conditions is a tricky, hazardous, and often fatal, business.
Flying over Scotland in May 1941, Nazi German Deputy Fuhrer/Leader Rudolf Hess (1894-1987) had to turn his own aircraft upside down to fall out of the cockpit, and very nearly didn't make it.
The Luftwaffe's ace pilot---Hans Joachim Marseilles, the legendary "Star of Africa"--- was killed when he, too, was struck by his own plane's tail. He fell to earth and died, his parachute never having opened.
Thus, Lt. George Bush was a lucky man, indeed!
He'd told his two crewmen to bail out, and never saw them alive again: both perished.
According to Hyams, "For an hour and a half, Bush paddled with his cupped hands, trying in vain to keep his raft from drifting. His head throbbed from the sun burning down on it. He was nauseated and exhausted. Stories he'd heard of what happened to airmen captured by the Japanese flashed through his mind, and he began to panic...
"No matter how hard he struggled, the ocean was going to take him to the island he'd just bombed, right into the hands of the enemy. He felt tired, and he knew he was alone: the sky above him was bright blue and clear, with no planes anywhere in sight. He prayed, and thought, 'This is it, it's all over.'"
In fact, continued McLean, the enemy had sighted him: "Two Japanese boats put out from the island to capture him, but the fourth Avenger pilot on his flight---Doug West---and some of the Hellcats strafed them, and drove them back into the harbor. Melvin and Moore radioed his position, and flew away, lest they disclose it to the Japanese."
Bush thought that they might be leaving him.
Japanese records found after the war in Tokyo confirmed his being shot down, plus the fate of his missing two crewmen---John "Del" Delaney and Lt. William G. "Ted" White: "Two men descended in parachutes, and disappeared into the sea."
Bush, though, was fated to be more fortunate, and was rescued at sea later that very same day. According to McLean, "After hours of rowing with his hands, Bush saw a periscope, then a conning tower cut through the water 100 yards away. It was American.
"Within minutes, he was aboard, and they quietly slipped beneath the waves...safely aboard the (US) submarine Finback, Bush learned that she was beginning an extended combat patrol in Japanese-controlled waters." His ordeal wasn't over yet.
He later recalled, "We got depth-charged. We got bombed by a (Japanese) Nell bomber while we were running on the surface. We sank a lot of enemy tonnage, and the skipper got a Silver Star for the sub's performance on that patrol, but the depth-charging just shook the boat..."
"'Those guys would say, 'Oh, that wasn't close.' It was funny. They would say it must be awful flying a plane, but I thought it was awful just sitting in this one place. On a plane, you can do something, but down there...'"
It was to be a full two months before Bush was able to return to the San Jac again. He fought his claustrophobia by volunteering for duty, standing watch along with the crew.
Bush flew eight more combat missions and four air strikes over the island of Luzon in the Philippines in November 1944, as well as made a hazardous landing on the flight deck in a rough sea.
His log for Nov. 14, 1944 records, "Bombing strike on Japanese shipping, Manila Bay." Remembered one of Bush's crew members, " The Jap Fleet was moving out, and we caught them just outside the harbor. Our first bomb landed alongside a supply ship. As we were diving again, I saw a gaping hole in the wing. I got on the intercom and told Bush about it.
"He came back to me in a moment and said, 'You're right. We have a hole in the wing,' but he continued straight in on the run, and scored a hit. He was just as cool and calm as he could be."
Added Hyams, "The flak was heavy, exploding all around the American planes, some of which were shot down."
Interjects McLean, "Just before Christmas 1944, he was ordered back to the States for retraining in Florida and Michigan, for assignment to another carrier for the final assault on Japan. The war ended just before he was due to ship back overseas, and he was discharged as a lieutenant junior grade in 1945, having been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals for his courageous and dedicated service to his country."
Discharged from the Navy on points compiled by his months in combat and the decorations he'd been awarded, Bush left the Navy on Sept. 18, 1945, after the surrender of Japan in Tokyo Bay aboard the battleship USS Missouri.
According to Hyams, "After logging 1,228 hours of flying time, 126 carrier landings, and 58 missions, his role in the Pacific Campaign was over, and he'd survived. He was married to the woman he loved, and a new life full of promise was about to begin."
Lt. Bush had married the former Barbara Pierce on Jan. 6, 1945, and he granted her a single dance: "He whispered in her ear, 'I hope you're having a good time. Enjoy it! It's the last time I'll ever dance again in public!"
V-J Day found the couple at Virginia Beach outside Norfolk, that I also visited in the late 1980s. They went to church to pray, and to thank God that the war was finally over.
Bush later asserted that, "Having been in combat rounded out my awareness of the human cost of war, and taught me the realities of death."
Bush graduated from Yale University in 1946, "Where he studied economics, and became captain of the baseball team." He also became a Texas oilman, their family, that was to include a pair of State governors (Texas and Florida), and also a President.
In 1967, he took a seat in Congress that he won representing Houston as that district's first elected Republican, winning reelection as well. In that capacity, he gave a Congressional appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, Highland Falls, NY to my fellow soldier and now US Coast Guard reserve officer, William Hancock, Class of 1971, commissioned as an Armor officer. He went on to command a tank company in West Germany.
Defeated in 1970 by later US Senator from Texas and 1988 Democratic nominee for Vice President the late Lloyd Bentsen, Bush was in turn appointed by GOP President Richard Nixon as Chief US Delegate to the United Nations in New York.
During 1973-74, Bush---nicknamed "Poppy"---was Republican Party National Chairman, and then was named Chief of the US Liaison Office to the Communist People's Republic of China for the next year, when President Gerald R. Ford appointed him to head the Central Intelligence Agency / CIA as its Director.
Thus far, Bush has been the only US President having served as DCI / Director of Intelligence. President Jimmy Carter retained him into 1977.
In 1980, Bush made his first of three runs for the Oval Office, but was defeated by the GOP Governor of California, Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination. He came Reagan's Veep running mate, however, and was both elected and reelected to that post in 1984, defeating the first woman ever nominated for it, Democratic New York Congresswoman the late Geraldine Ferraro.
Nominated in his own right at last in 1988, Bush defeated Democratic nominee Massachusetts Gov. Michael A. Dukakis, whose Veep running mate was none other than Texas US Sen. Lloyd Bentsen.
Bush arrived at the White House as perhaps the very best prepared President in all of American history bar none, and waged war in both Panama and the Persian Gulf.
Might all this not have happened had he been captured and taken to Chichi Jima? Answered Hyams, "No record exists of a single captured airman leaving the island alive...11 Navy airmen were shot down in the vicinity...and their bodies were never recovered...All records were supposed to be destroyed, because the events that occurred on the island were---and still are---a matter of shame to the Japanese," as well they might be!
The men were beheaded and eaten, in total disregard for international law concerning the treatment of POWs.
The San Jac was sold for scrap on Dec. 15, 1971, while Bush was at the UN. "She'd achieved a remarkable record," asserted Hyams. "During 16 months of continuous combat, she destroyed or damaged 712 Japanese aircraft, 22 warships, and 219 auxiliaries or merchant ships, as well as countless shore installations."
As noted by McClean's Uncommon Valor, "Bravery under fire is the stuff heroes are made of. Bravery under fire is an indispensable characteristic of the soldier who would win. Bravery under fire is a different animal than bravado before the battle, or braggadocio after...
"George Bush is a courageous war hero...a hero...in the eyes of those who were there, and served with him."
Stated Soldier of Fortune magazine in 1988, "Bush's World War II record shows he has the right stuff." He barely missed service again in the later Korean War of 1950-53.
In 1992 there was published George Bush: An Unauthorized Biography by authors Webster Tarpley and Anton Chaitkin---associates of then imprisoned dissident leader Lyndon Larouche---published by Executive Intelligence Review.
All sides on any personality or public issue deserve to be presented, and inasmuch as his wartime record helped build the later Bush 41 political career (as it had done earlier with JFK), the same standard applies here.
The 1992 authors raised, debated, and criticized Lt. Bush's account on two key points: was or was not his Avenger on fire when he bailed out, and did or did not his two-man crew bail out with him?
The resolution of these questions was and is crucial to a true understanding of the former President's own combat record in World War II.
The authors believed that his plane did not catch fire, that the story was invented later for political purposes, and that he should've made a water landing, as he knew how to do.
Had he done so, they felt, his two crewmen would've had a greater chance of survival.
They maintained also that the men did not bail out, and that a panicked Bush simply left them to their fate.
First, it must be stated that the authors had their own axe to grind; second, that hindsight is always better than foresight, and, third---even if true---he would not have been the first man in combat to give in to fright and later still excel in both war and peace.
The authors quoted the rear turret gunner in the plane immediately ahead of that of Bush's Barbara II, Chester Mierzejewski: "That guy is not telling the truth," that "Bush's plane was never on fire," and that "No smoke came out of his cockpit when he opened his canopy to bail out."
"Only one man ever got out of the Barbara II, and that was Bush himself. I was hoping that I would see some other parachutes. I never did. I saw the plane go down. I knew the guys were still in it. It was a helpless feeling. He knew I saw the whole thing. He said, 'Ski, I'm sure those two men were dead. I called them on the radio three times. They were dead."
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