What’s in a Number? If it’s 41…

If it’s 41, there is an American Treasure

This is part 1 of a 4 part series on our nation’s 41st President, George H. W. Bush

The Pacific Ocean

02 September 1944

Enemy antiaircraft fire from the island of ChiChi Jima had mortally wounded his aircraft. He and his crew had completed their mission, but had no choice now but to bail out of the crippled Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber.

Surviving the bailout, the young naval aviator managed to inflate his small one-man life raft, and climb in. Alone now in the Pacific, he struggled to comprehend all that had just happened. He didn’t know the fate of his two crewmen–he hoped they had bailed out before the plane hit the water. There was something else he did not know – there was an unseen and deadly threat closing on him.

The Japanese soldiers on the island had seen him ditching his plane. They had quickly boarded a small vessel, and now were heading out to sea, intent on capturing him and his crew. Circling overhead, a fellow Naval Aviator spotted, then strafed the Japanese vessel. Only his hail of bullets kept that enemy vessel from reaching the stranded young U.S. navy pilot.  An American submarine operating nearby, the U.S.S. Finback, spotted and then pluck the 20 year-old George H. W. Bush from the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

He would later learn neither of his crewmen survived. He learned too that Japanese officers on the island of Chichi Jima had engaged in cannibalism using the bodies of American casualties. He owed much to that nameless angel circling overhead as he bobbed in the ocean that day.

Bush won the Distinguished Flying Cross medal for his valor in combat. The youngest navy pilot in WWII, his experience in the Pacific was one of the most shaping of his life.


George H. W. Bush

Then and Now

20 Years Earlier

Born in 1924, the son of Prescott Bush and Dorothy Walker Bush, George H. W. Bush grew up the educated, cultured product of New England aristocracy. His father won election to the U.S. Senate from Connecticut. His grandfather was part of a family of wealthy, successful Wall Street financiers.

Bush group up in an environment of wealth and ease.  It would have been easy for him to enter adulthood with a sense of entitlement. Instead, thanks to the traits his parents instilled in him, Bush entered it with deeply held convictions about loyalty, moderation and modesty. They also impressed upon him the importance of public service as a means of giving something back to his country. These lessons would shape his decisions and actions for the rest of his life.

His public service to our country began in 1942. He had just turned 18, and following family tradition, should have been heading to college and then onto a career in business. Instead, Bush deferred his college education. Joining millions of his fellow young Americans, he enlisted in the armed forces to join the fight against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and the Imperial Japanese Empire. He would soon pin on the gold wings of a U.S. Naval Aviator. His decision to join the fight would soon result in the young Bush finding himself in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, helping to wage a war against Imperial Japan. He would fly 58 combat missions.

Following his service in WWII, he married Barbara Pierce, and go onto Yale University, earning a degree in economics in 1948.  He declined to take the easy path of joining the family business though. Instead, choosing to strike out on his one, he began his business career as an independent oil-man in West Texas.  Early in their marriage, he and his wife Barbara would share the grief of losing her three-year-old daughter to leukemia. By 1960, at 40 years of age, he had become a self-made millionaire. But the call to service and politics was strong, and it would push Bush into a life devoted to public service to our nation.

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