America loses a quintessential member of the ‘Greatest Generation’

Monday, December 3, 2018

The fact that George H.W. Bush, who died at 94 on Friday, was the youngest pilot in the Navy in World War II illustrates just how rare veterans of that war are becoming.

Their wisdom and experience has served us well and will be sorely missed.

It’s no stretch to say Bush was “born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” but the way he used that opportunity should be an inspiration for us all.

His father was the son of an Ohio steel magnate who made a fortune as an investment banker and served 10 years as a senator from Congress.

Like most young able-bodied men of the time, George H.W. Bush enlisted as soon as he could, at 18, returning to marry his 19-year-old sweetheart, daughter of the wealthy publisher of McCall’s magazine.

They were the longest-married presidential couple in history when she died last April 17.

He flew 58 missions off the USS San Jacinto, the other two crewmen in his torpedo bomber perishing when they had to ditch after bombing a Japanese radio tower on the tiny island of Chichi Jima.

A submarine towed Bush to safety with its periscope before surfacing a safe distance away. All nine of the other airmen who were captured on that island were killed by their captors, some of them cannibalized.

Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the war, Bush was first baseman and captain of the Yale baseball team, playing in the first College World Series in 1947 and again in 1948.

He helped found Zapata Petroleum Corp. in 1953, and became active in Republican politics, serving two terms in Congress starting in 1966.

Appointed ambassador to the United Nations by President Nixon, he was later chairman of the Republican National Committee and served as ambassador to China and head of the CIA.

He ran for president in 1980, and despite “momentum” in the Iowa caucuses, lost the nomination to Ronald Reagan, who selected him as his vice-presidential running mate.

Despite selecting Dan Quayle as a running mate in 1988, Bush carried 40 states in 1988, the first sitting vice president to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836.

He helped the nation navigate dangerous waters during the break-up of the Soviet Union, the first Gulf War, recession and deficits while promoting volunteerism and signing the Americans With Disabilities Act.

He sacrificed his own re-election chances by dealing with a budget crisis that broke his own promise — “read my lips, no new taxes!”

Defeated after one term by Bill Clinton, he later became close friends with his old rival, raising millions for hurricane relief.

Known for his self-deprecating sense of humor, he also was friendly with Dana Carvey, who made a career of impersonating him on Saturday Night Live.

He celebrated his 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays by skydiving, and lived to see his son, George W. become president, son Jeb elected Florida governor.

Baby boomers who grew up hearing stories of sacrifice from the Great Depression and World War II are struggling to pass those lessons onto the next generations of American leadership.

They could find no better example of character and wisdom than the late George H. W. Bush.

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