George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, passed away the evening of November 30th at the age of ninety-four. The news was announced by his son and 43rd President, George W. Bush, in a statement issued from Dallas, Texas, and posted on the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s website.
“Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro, and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died. George H. W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for. The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41’s life and love, for the compassion of those who have cared and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens.”
Born in Milton, Massachusetts, on June 12th, 1924, George was the second of five children born to Prescott and Dorothy Bush. Bush attended the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, distinguishing himself in both sports and academics. He was completing his senior year when the United States entered WWII, following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. With the war just six months old, Bush graduated from Phillips and on his 18th Birthday enlisted in the Navy. His enlistment was barely a week after US Naval forces in the Pacific handed Japan a decisive defeat at the Battle of Midway. Selected for training as a Naval Aviator, Bush completed the ten-month program and was commissioned as an officer, with the rank of Ensign in the Naval Reserve. His commissioning occurred just three days prior to his nineteenth birthday, making Bush the youngest Naval officer commissioned in WWII.
By 1944, Lt. (j.g.) Bush had flown 58 combat missions in the Grumman-designed TBM Avenger torpedo plane. His squadron, flying off the escort carrier USS San Jacinto participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and the reduction of the Bonin Islands. During this operation, flying a bombing mission over Chichijima, his Avenger was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Bush continued his bomb run and with his engine on fire got hits on the target, and then headed out over the ocean to bail out and avoid capture by the Japanese. He bailed out of the aircraft with his crewmen but was the only survivor to reach the water alive. Disoriented and bleeding from a head wound, Bush drifted in the Pacific for several hours with squadron mates overhead marking his position and driving away Japanese boats sent out to capture him. He was recovered by the submarine Finnback, which was in the area to recover pilots downed in the raid. Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross for Valor on this mission. After his recovery, Bush returned to his squadron which was rotated back to the U.S. He then spent the rest of the war training new pilots in Norfolk. He was honorably discharged in September 1945 — just one month after the Japanese surrender.
Bush married his wife, Barbara, while he was in the Navy, and they had six children. Tragically, their second child, a daughter called “Robin,” died of leukemia before her fourth birthday. The Bushes founded a leukemia research foundation in remembrance. The other five children went on to careers of distinction in business, literature, and politics. George W. was governor of Texas and became the 43rd President, and Jeb became governor of Florida.
Bush attended Yale University, and attained an undergraduate degree in economics in two and a half years, instead of the usual four. He then took his family to Texas for the oil business. By 1966 Bush was a millionaire and was elected to the House of Representatives. Elected to a second term in 1968, he was persuaded by President Nixon to run for the Senate against Lloyd Bentson, but was defeated. Nixon, in turn, appointed Bush UN Ambassador, a post he held from 1971-1973. Embroiled in the Watergate cover-up, Nixon asked Bush to become Republican Party Chairman in 1973. Bush accepted and was a solid defender of Nixon until Nixon’s wrongdoings became clear. It was Bush, as Party Chair, that went to Nixon with the demand by the Republican Party that he resign from office.
With the swearing-in of Gerald Ford as President, replacing Nixon, Bush was appointed Chief of the Liaison Office to the People’s Republic of China in 1974. He was based in Taiwan, as the U.S. did not have full diplomatic relations with the PRC at that time. Then in 1976, Bush was recalled by Ford to be director of the CIA, following a series of scandals involving agency activities in Southeast Asia. With the election of Jimmy Carter, Bush returned to civilian life, and jobs in banking, and as a visiting professor at Rice University.
In 1979, Bush made the decision to run for the Presidency, attending hundreds of events and traveling some 250,000 miles in the process. In a field including Ronald Reagan, Bush won initial success in the Iowa caucus but dropped out of the race by May of that year. Planning on retirement, he made plans to move into his grandfathers home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and sold his home in Texas. During the Republican convention, however, Reagan made the decision to offer Bush the Vice President’s slot to unite the moderate and conservative wings of the party. Bush accepted and during his eight years as Vice President his Texas residence was a room at the Houstonian Hotel in Houston, for voting purposes. As Vice President, Bush was considered to have given good and loyal service to Reagan during some tumultuous times. The Grenada invasion, the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Iran/Contra affair, and even an attempt on President Reagan’s life. In Houston at the time, Vice President Bush was urgently summoned to the White House. Landing at Andrews Air Force Base, the plan was for a Marine helicopter to deliver him directly to the White House to be ready to assume the responsibilities of succession should President Reagan die, Bush declined, saying, “Only the President lands on the South Lawn.”
Bush ran again for the Presidency in the 1988 election, to replace Ronald Reagan after his second term, and this time beat Democrat Michael Dukakis by nearly eight points in the popular vote, and by nearly a four-to-one margin in the Electoral College. As President, George H. W. Bush is remembered primarily for two things: the successful expulsion of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, and for breaking an election pledge he made by saying, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Seeking re-election, he handily won the Republican nomination, only to be challenged by Texas businessman Ross Perot, as an independent, and by Bill Clinton, representing the Democrats. Perot acted as a spoiler in the race, gaining 19% of the popular vote, the largest percentage ever for an independent candidate. Perot’s support came mostly from the fiscally conservative wing of the Republican party, which split even further by voting for Clinton, who also ran as a fiscal moderate. Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton in the 1992 race.
After leaving office former President Bush kept a relatively low profile, and returned to private life. He received numerous awards and honors, including an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama, and some fifteen honorary degrees from Universities around the country. Perhaps most meaningful to him personally, the tenth and final Nimitz class nuclear aircraft carrier, the George H. W. Bush CVN -77, was commissioned in his name on January 10th, 2009, at the Norfolk Naval Station
Former First Lady Barbara Bush, his wife of some 72 years, passed away in April of 2018. Bush was notable in his stoicism releasing a statement which said, “We have faith she is in heaven, and we know life will go on — as she would have it. So cross the Bushes off your worry list.”
President Bush was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease, a thyroid condition he shared with his wife. He had a series of hospitalizations for various ailments and was confined to a wheelchair in 2012 after it was found he was also suffering from Vascular Parkinsonism.
Upon his death, George H. W. Bush will be recalled by historians as the longest-lived president in U.S. History. He is survived by his five children, 17 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.