Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, George H. W. Bush enlisted in the U.S. Navy on his 18th birthday and became the youngest aviator in the U.S. Navy. In September 1943, he was assigned to Torpedo Squadron based on USS San Jacinto. In August 1944, San Jacinto commenced operations against the Japanese in the Boning Islands in the Pacific. Bush piloted one of four Grumman Avenger aircrafts that attacked the Japanese installations on Chichi Jima, a Japanese fortified island north of Iwo Jima.
During the attack, the Avengers encountered intense anti-aircraft fire; Ltd. Bush steered the plane into a steep dive headed straight towards the enemy fortress. Suddenly, a powerful burst of antiaircraft fire rocked the plane. Now the plane was flying from an inverted position.
Somehow, he managed to right the plane and opened the bomb bay doors and released two five hundred-pound bombs. Then, black splotches of antiaircraft gunfire appeared around the cockpit, which filled with smoke as more fire flamed across the crease of the wing and edged towards the fuel tanks.
Despite his plane being hit, Bush stayed with the dive and banked the crippled plane off towards the Pacific and leveled the aircraft. But he couldn’t keep the plane in the air much longer. He ordered his crew members to bail out. The aircraft lost altitude, morphing into an out-of-control metal fireball.
Luckily, his parachute deployed, and in a moment of eerie silence, the water grew closer and closer, and he splashed down into the Pacific, alive but bleeding from his head. His crew members were not so fortunate. One’s parachute did not deploy, and the hard fall into the water killed him on impact. The second crew never escaped from the fuselage of the falling plane and died as the Avenger plunged into the Pacific and sunk below the surface.
Battling strong currents, he became a floating target for both Japanese naval boats and vicious sharks in the water. Yet he managed to deploy his life raft and pulled himself up into it even as Japanese boats sped toward him.
A sound from above brought a twist of fate. It came from U.S. Navy planes, which suddenly buzzed the skies overhead. Soon machine-gun fire cracked the air, with bullets furiously splashing and spraying the water all around Bush as the planes poured .50-caliber rounds at the attacking Japanese boats, driving them back from the pilot. Bush was eventually rescued after three hours at sea. Of the nine squadron members shot down that morning, Bush was the only one fortunate enough to escape capture at Chichi Jima.
You were a brave navy pilot and a fine politician. We will remember your warm smiling face for a long time when you visited Korea in 1989 and 1992 as the president of the United States of America.
We are saddened, yet our thoughts and payers are with you.
The writer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Korean War navy veteran.