The recent death of World War II veteran, Medal of Honor recipient and longtime Hawaii senator Daniel Inouye got me thinking about other notable WWII vets who, like Inouye, not only served their country in combat, but also in high elected office.
I first became acquainted with the World War II exploits of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush when I read the paperback version of his book, “Looking Forward,” right before he ran for and was elected president in 1988, after serving eight years as Ronald Reagan’s second in command.
Bush joined the U.S. Navy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, became a naval aviator at the age of 18, and was commissioned an ensign three days before his 19th birthday, making him the youngest naval aviator to date.
He piloted a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, flying missions from the aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto in operations against the Japanese in the Bonin Islands in the Pacific. His engine caught on fire after taking heavy anti-aircraft fire during an attack on Japanese installations on Chichijima. He was able to make his bomb drop, but after peeling out a couple of miles off the coast of the island, he had to bail out.
One of the two men in his crew was able to bail out with Bush, but his parachute did not open. The two men both died as a result of the battle.
Bush waited for hours in an inflatable raft, and I remember reading how he wondered who would reach him first … his U.S. comrades or the enemy ships heading out from the coast. He eventually saw a periscope appear above the surface – not knowing if it was friend or foe – and I remember thinking how scary that must have been for him as he awaited his fate.
The submarine USS Finback rescued the man who would be our 41st president. Bush spent a month on the sub and participated in other pilot rescues at sea. He returned to the San Jacinto and through 1944, flew 58 combat missions. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation, awarded to the San Jacinto.
I was so enamored with his story, I purchased and built a small, plastic TBM Avenger model airplane.
Bush, who was hospitalized Nov. 23 for a bronchitis-related cough, was moved out of intensive care today, according to Associated Press reports.
By The Associated Press, Updated: Saturday, December 29, 1:25 PM