George H.W. Bush — The Reason Why

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

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“The story was almost over even before it had fully begun. Shortly after dawn on Saturday, September 2, 1944, Lieutenant Junior Grade George Herbert Walker Bush, joined by two crewmates, took off from the U.S.S. San Jacinto to attack a radio tower on Chichijima. As they approached the target, the air was heavy with flak. The plane was hit. Smoke filled the cockpit, flames raced across the wings. ‘My God,’ Lieutenant Bush thought, ‘This thing’s going to go down.’

“Yet he kept the plane in its 35 degree dive, dropped his bombs, and then roared off out to sea, telling his crew mates to hit the silk. Following protocol, Lieutenant Bush turned the plane so they could bail out. Only then did Bush parachute from the cockpit. The wind propelled him backward, and he gashed his head on the tail of the plane as he flew through the sky. He plunged deep into the ocean, bobbed to the surface, and flopped onto a tiny raft, his head bleeding, his eyes burning, his mouth and throat raw from salt water.

“The future 41st president of the United States was alone. Sensing that his men had not made it, he was overcome. He felt the weight of responsibility as a nearly physical burden, and he wept. Then at four minutes shy of noon, a submarine emerged to rescue the downed pilot. George Herbert Walker Bush. The story, his story and ours, would go on by God’s grace. Through the ensuing decades, President Bush would frequently ask, nearly daily, he would ask himself, ‘Why me? Why was I spared?’”


Excerpted from Mr. Meacham’s eulogy for the 41st president at the National Cathedral, Washington. The video linked above contains the full remarks by Mr. Meacham, the late president’s biographer.

Correction: Jon is the spelling of the first name of Mr. Meacham; it was given incorrectly in the headline of an early edition.

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