Piloting a TBM Avenger in August of 1944 in the area of the Bonin Islands, following a successful bombing run on Japanese installations on Chichijima, Naval aviator George Herbert Walker Bush and his crew were forced to ditch their damaged aircraft.
The only survivor of his three-man crew, the 20-year-old future president spent hours floating in a life raft awaiting rescue as several allied fighters circled protectively overhead. The incident is reported to have had a profound effect on Bush, as he wondered why he was spared and what God’s plan was for him.
The answer to that question would require more space than we are allotted on our editorial page.
Following his discharge from the Navy at the end of WWII, during which he flew 58 combat missions, Bush embarked on a 75-year journey of public service few could rival. A two-term congressman from Texas, Bush’s failures were almost as noteworthy as his successes: He twice campaigned unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate and lost the Republican nomination for president in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, despite being considered an early favorite.
Yet in between these “failures,” Bush found the time to serve as a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, chaired the Republican National Committee, served as a U.S. envoy to China and was the director of the CIA. His political career culminated in his two terms as vice president under Reagan, after which he was elected the 41st President of the United States.
Born with the proverbial “silver spoon,” Bush eschewed a life of privilege for one of public service. His years in the White House represent a mere fraction of the close to 75 years he spent in service to his country.
“President George H.W. Bush was an extraordinary patriot and public servant,” Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said in a statement. “His dedication to family and his absolute courtesy to all, serve as a model for all Americans. Carol and I send our condolences to his family.”
Though his presidency lasted just one term, Bush’s administration is probably best remembered for its foreign policy. On his watch, the United States succeeded in removing Manuel Noriega from power in Panama, helped facilitate the end of the Cold War and led a coalition of countries into Kuwait in response to the invasion of that country by Iraq.
Much like former president Jimmy Carter, another one-and-done president whose time in the White House is defined more by what it didn’t accomplish than by what it did, Bush stayed active after his term, working with charities and attempting to strengthen bipartisan bonds. He even forged an unlikely friendship with his successor, when he and former president Bill Clinton were tasked by then-President George W. Bush with spearheading relief efforts following the 2004 Asian tsunami.
We tend to have a negative opinion of one-term presidents, often regarding them as ineffectual or unsuccessful. The elder Bush’s term in the White House is further diminished by being sandwiched between a pair of Republican and Democratic icons in Reagan and Clinton, respectively.
But the fact remains that, despite how you feel about him or his legacy, George Herbert Walker Bush was, above all things, a patriot, distinguished by service with humanity and humility. Editorial cartoonist Marshall Ramsey, who drew a touching tribute to Bush upon learning of his death on Friday, perhaps said it best.
“I wanted to incorporate his service to our country because, love or hate him, he served our country in about every capacity,” Ramsey said.
It’s only fitting he should be remembered that way.