President George H.W. Bush's Military Service

Instructor: Jennifer Shaw

Jennifer is a third year PhD student in women's studies and has a a Master's degree in History.

This lesson will examine the exemplary military service of George H.W. Bush - future President of the United States - covering his combat missions, his awards, and the story of being shot down over the Pacific.

Flying Ace George H.W. Bush

December 7, 1942. The day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. This was the event that prompted the United States to finally enter the Second World War. It was also the event that prompted George H.W. Bush, who would later become 41st President of the United States, to enter the Navy and become a military aviator.

Early Years

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Bush, then seventeen and still in school, decided to enter the Navy. Six months later, having graduated from Phillips Academy, he entered the Navy on his eighteenth birthday and began preflight training at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His training took ten months and when he finished his training he was commissioned as an ensign in the naval reserve. Still only eighteen, he was the youngest naval aviator in the Navy.

He was assigned to the USS San Jacinto and its Torpedo Squadron as a photographic officer. Some of his first missions were flying torpedo runs in crucial operations against Marcus and Wake Islands. Later, he was also flew in missions in the Marianas. It was while returning from one of these runs, on June 19, 1943, that he experienced a forced water landing. Ensign Bush was rescued by another ship, though the plane was not recovered. He was credited with sinking a small cargo ship along with another pilot during these missions.

Bush in his Grumman Avenger plane in 1944 on the San Jacinto

Bush Gets Shot Down

On August 1, 1943, Bush was promoted to Lieutenant First Grade. The USS San Jacinto then began attacking the Japanese in the Bonin Islands. This operation went on for some time. On September 2, 1944, Bush piloted one of the four planes that attacked Chi Chi Jima. The Japanese fired back using anti-aircraft missiles. His plane was hit, and his engine caught on fire. Despite this, he and his crewmates managed to complete the attack run, and their shots scored several direct hits that did immense damage. He flew out several miles, and then he bailed out. The two other crewmen on the plane were killed in action, one dying when his parachute didn't open. Bush waited several hours in an inflatable raft, while Japanese boats were on their way to capture him. However, other military planes circled over Bush in order to protect him, until a submarine named USS Finback rescued him. Bush stayed on the sub for a month, and helped to rescue other pilots, before being delivered to Midway. For all these accomplishments, Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Bush being rescued by the Finback in 1944
being rescued by the Finback

The End of Bush's Naval Career

Bush returned to the USS San Jacinto in November 1944 and went on to fly in missions against the Philippines. When the ship went back to Guam, Bush's squadron, which lost fifty percent of its pilots in the course of its mission, was sent back to the United States. Overall, Bush flew 58 combat missions, comprising over 1228 combat hours, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals and the Presidential Citation Medal which was presented to the USS San Jacinto's crew.

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