George Herbert Walker Bush died at age 94 on Friday. The man perhaps best known as the first of two presidents to carry his family name into the Oval Office in recent years, George H.W. Bush’s rise to the presidency involved holding incredibly influential positions like the director of the CIA, but long before Bush Sr. was running a clandestine intelligence agency, he was flying bombing missions over World War II Japan as a Naval aviator.
On September 2, 1944, Bush was one of three crew members flying aboard a TBM Avenger tasked with bombing a Japanese island that serves as both a communications hub and resupply point. Bush’s aircraft, as well as the others in his formation, were hit with heavy anti-aircraft fire as they made their approach and his plane suffered a direct hit before they were able to release their payload on target. With his aircraft badly damaged, George Bush completed the bombing run, releasing his payload on target before pointing the nose of the bomber out to sea and making it a few more miles before ejecting.
One of Bush’ crew members was able to eject as well, though his parachute did not open. After four hours drifting in the open ocean on an inflatable raft, Bush was rescued by the submarine USS Finback. He was the only man from his bomber to survive. Bush would spend the following month aboard the Finback, assisting in further search and rescue operations for other downed pilots.
Bush then returned to the sky, where he completed his career as a Naval Aviator with 58 combat missions under his belt, as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and a Presidential Unit Citation for subsequent operations carried out in the Philippines. Bush’ squadron in that campaign suffered 50% pilot casualties.
In this video, you can see the future head of the CIA turned president being rescued from the Pacific by the crew of the Finback after his tragic and heroic bombing run.
Feature image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons