A young George Bush, center, with Joe Reichert, left, and Leo Nadeau, during World War II. (Robert B. Stinnett / National Archives)
Just one day after his wife was buried, former President George H.W. Bush contracted an infection that spread to his blood and was hospitalized . On Monday, a family spokesman said Bush is responding to the treatment and seems to be recovering. The health of the 93-year-olds has been declining for years, but on Saturday Bush was at Barbara's funeral in Houston in the center. Locked up in a wheelchair, Bush sat stolidly as family and friends highlighted his 73-year marriage to the former First Lady and her remarkable life.
Included in these honors was a brief account of one of the earliest times George Bush – now America's oldest living president – faced his own mortality. More than seven decades ago, Bush did not face death from an intensive care unit or at the bedside of his dying wife, but alone in the expanses of the Pacific Ocean.
A high school senior on December 7, 1941, Bush went to the campus of Phillips Academy Andover when he first learned that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Bush should react immediately, according to Bush biographer and presidential historian Jon Meacham.
"After Pearl Harbor, it was a completely different world," Bush later recalled Meacham's biography, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey by George Herbert Walker Bush. "It was a red, white, and blue thing, their land is under attack, you better go in there and try to help."
Bush first decided that he wanted to become a pilot – and fast. He briefly considered joining the Royal Air Force in Canada because, as Meacham said, Bush "could get through much faster." But Bush was lured by naval service, inspired by the grandeur of the Navy's power and its reputation for camaraderie and camaraderie purpose. A combination of flies and the Navy fits just right.
This winter, Bush was not yet 18 years old. He would go home from his uniform last Christmas. And at a Christmas dance, he had Barbara in his sights.
On June 12, 1942, Bush became 18 and graduated from Andover. After starting, he went to Boston to be sworn into the Navy. Nearly a year later, Bush became an officer in the United States Naval Reserve and earned his wings as a naval aviator. Meacham speculates that Bush was probably the Navy's youngest flight officer just days before his 19th birthday. He was assigned to fly torpedo bombers from aircraft carriers in the Pacific Theater.
At dawn on September 2, 1944, Bush was to strike over Chichi Jima, a Japanese island about 500 miles from the mainland. The island was a stronghold of communications and supplies for the Japanese and was heavily guarded. Bush's precise target was a radio tower.
At about 7:15 am this morning, Bush and William G. White, known as "Ted", and John "Del" Delaney set off through the clear sky. Just over an hour later, her plane was hit. Meacham wrote that smoke filled the cockpit and flames swallowed the wings. Bush radioed White and Delaney to put on their parachutes.
"My God," Bush thought, "this thing is going to explode."
Bush smothered the smoke and let the plane continue dropping bombs and hitting the radio tower. He ordered White and Delaney to parachute out of the plane, then climbed through his open hatch to maneuver out of the cockpit.
"The wind hit him with full force, lifted him up the rest of the way and drove him back the tail," wrote Meacham. "He bored his head and injured his eye on his tail as he flew through the sky and the burning airplane raced towards the sea."
When Bush floated out of the sky, he saw his plane crash into the water and disappear beneath him. Then he bumped the waves and struggled back to the surface, kicking off his shoes to relieve his load.
"His khaki flight suit was soaked and heavy, his head was bleeding, his eyes were burning from the cockpit smoke, and his mouth and throat were raw with salt water," Meacham wrote.
Former President George W. Bush, left, and George HW Bush arrive at St. Martin's Episcopal Church for a funeral service for former First Lady Barbara Bush. (AP Photo / David J. Phillip)
Fifty feet away, a life raft bobbed that could inflate and flop Bush. But the wind carried him to Chichi Jima so that Bush paddled his arms in the opposite direction. Bush later learned of terrible war crimes committed against American prisoners in Chichi Jima, including cannibalism.
" For a while I thought I was done, "said Bush to Meacham.
He was alone, vomiting over the side of the life raft and slowly realizing that White and Delaney had disappeared.Hours passed, he cried and thought of home, Barbara would soon receive a letter from him in which The letter was dated before Georges plane was hit.
Bush thought he was in delirium when suddenly a 311-foot submarine arrived
"Welcome aboard, sir," greeted a second-class torpedo
"Happy to be aboard," the future Commander-in-Chief replied.
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