Upon hearing of the Pearl Harbor attack, while a student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, George Bush decided he wanted to join the Navy to become an aviator.
Six months after college graduation, he enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday and began preflight training at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After completing the 10-month course, he was commissioned as an ensign in the US Naval Reserve on 9 June 1943, several days before his 19th birthday; making him the youngest naval aviator then.
After finishing flight training, he was assigned to Torpedo Squadron (VT-51) as photographic officer in September 1943. As part of Air Group 51, his squadron was based on USS San Jacinto in the spring of 1944.San Jacinto was part of Task Force 58 that participated in operations against Marcus and Wake Islands in May, and then in the Marianas during June. On 19 June, the task force triumphed in one of the largest air battles of the war. During the return of his aircraft from the mission, Ensign Bush’s aircraft made a forced water landing. The destroyer, USS Clarence K. Bronson, rescued the crew, but the plane was lost. On 25 July, Ensign Bush and another pilot received credit for sinking a small cargo ship.
After Bush was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade on 1 August, San Jacinto commenced operations against the Japanese in the Bonin Islands. On 2 September 1944, Bush piloted one of four aircraft from VT-51 that attacked the Japanese installations on Chi Chi Jima. For this mission his crew included Radioman Second Class John Delaney, and Lieutenant Junior Grade William White, USNR, who substituted for Bush’s regular gunner. During their attack, four TBM Avengers from VT-51 encountered intense antiaircraft fire.
While starting the attack, Bush’s aircraft was hit and his engine caught on fire. He completed his attack and released the bombs over his target scoring several damaging hits. With his engine on fire, Bush flew several miles from the island, where he and one other crew member on the TBM Avenger bailed out of the aircraft. However, the other man’s chute did not open and he fell to his death. It was never determined which man bailed out with Bush. Both Delaney and White were killed in action.
While Bush anxiously waited four hours in his inflated raft, several fighters circled protectively overhead until he was rescued by the lifeguard submarine, USS Finback. For this action, Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross. During the month he remained on Finback, Bush participated in the rescue of other pilots.
Subsequently, Bush returned to San Jacinto in November 1944 and participated in operations in the Philippines. When San Jacinto returned to Guam, the squadron, which had suffered 50 percent casualties of its pilots, was replaced and sent to the United States. Throughout 1944, he had flown 58 combat missions for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded San Jacinto.
Because of his valuable combat experience, Bush was reassigned to Norfolk and put in a training wing for new torpedo pilots. Later, he was assigned as a naval aviator in a new torpedo squadron, VT-153. With the surrender of Japan, he was honorably discharged in September 1945 and then entered Yale University.
The young pilot who grew up to serve his country in so many other ways as CIA Director, Vice President and President of the United States, celebrated his 90th birthday last week by parachuting out of a plane.
We should all strive to be that cool.
Former Lieutenant George Herbert Walker Bush, US Naval Reserve
Transcript Of Naval Service
|12 June 1924||Born in Milton, Massachusetts|
|13 June 1942||Enlisted in US Naval Reserve|
|5 August 1942||Reported for Active Duty|
|8 June 1943||Honorably Discharged|
|9 June 1943||Ensign, US Naval Reserve and continued on Active Duty|
|1 August 1944||Lieutenant (junior grade)|
|18 September 1945||Released from Active Duty under honorable conditions|
|16 November 1948||Lieutenant|
|24 October 1955||Resignation accepted under honorable conditions|
SHIPS AND STATIONS
|US Naval Air Station,
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (Instrn)
|June 1943 – August 1943|
|Naval Air Operational
Carrier Qualification Training Unit
US Naval Air Station, Glenview, Ill. (Instrn)
|August 1943 – August 1943|
|Air Force, US Atlantic Fleet,
US Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Va. (Instrn)
|August 1943 – September 1943|
|Carrier Aircraft Service 21
|September 1943 – September 1943|
|Torpedo Squadron 51 (Naval Aviator)||September 1943 – December 1943|
|Air Force, US Atlantic Fleet,
Air Station, Norfolk, Va.
|December 1944 – February 1945|
|Torpedo Squadron 97||February 1945 – March 1945|
|Torpedo Squadron 153(Naval Aviator)||March 1945 – September 1945|
|Headquarters, FIFTH Naval District||September 1945 – September 1945|
Ships named for President George H. W. Bush:
U.S.S. George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) – commissioned 10 January 2009
On the Web:
George Bush In World War II: Bibliography
Alcorn, Mike. “Naval Museum Displays Plane Once Flown by President Bush.” Gosport Spotlight (26 June 1992): 3.
“A Boy Goes to War: Fifty Years Ago WWII Began. Probably the Last U.S. President to Fight In It Looks Back.” Life 12, No.l0 (Sep.1989): 70-72, 74-76.
Cagle, M.W. “George Bush, Naval Aviator.” Air Power History 37, no. 1 (Spring 1990): 9-18.
Christman, Timothy J. “Vice President Bush Calls WW II Experience Sobering.” Naval Aviation News 67 (Mar.-Apr. 1985): 12-15.
Furgurson, Ernest B. “Bush, Once Navy’s Youngest Pilot, Reminisces on Service During War II.” Navy Times 35, no.4 (11 Nov. 1985): 6, 29, 34, 85.
“Bush’s War”. Washingtonian 20, no.11 (Aug. 1985): 132-35, 166-67.
Hyams, Joe. Flight of the Avenger: George Bush at War. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991. Note: This book contains an acknowledgement section, but no formal bibliography.
Mazzarella, Daniel A., ” History Rode a Trenton-Made Parachute: Lt. Bush Bailed Out of a Burning Plane 45 Years Ago.” Trenton NJ Times (3 Sep. 1989): BB6ff.
Stinnett, Robert B., George Bush: His World War II Years. Missoula MT: Pictorial Histories Publishing, 1991. Note: Footnoted, with an extensive bibliography of published books and archival materials relating to the USS San Jacinto and Air Group 51.