George Herbert Walker Bush, the second son of Prescott and Dorothy Bush, was born on this day in 1924, which means that the spring he turned 18, his nation was at war. Poppy Bush, as he was called, had just earned his high school diploma at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass, where captained the baseball team and earned a reputation as a handsome and friendly class leader.
With the assistance of Bush’s father, a future U.S. senator, Andover secured the services of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson as its 1942 commencement speaker. One of his tasks, Stimson decided, was advising the 213 all-male members of the graduating class that they not rush off to war. Go to college first, he advised. Your country will still need you in three or four years — as officers.
But Poppy Bush had quietly acquainted himself with the men assigned to the U.S. Navy’s local recruiting office. And as he and his family filed out of Cochran Chapel on June 12, 1942, Prescott Bush asked his son whether Stimson’s speech had changed his mind.
“No, sir,” the young man replied. “I’m joining up.”
It was George Bush’s 18th birthday. Days later, he was in the United States Navy.
A year after that, he was flying combat missions against the Japanese, the youngest Navy flier in the Pacific theater. He would fly 58 missions and be awarded the Navy’s Distinguished Flying Cross. On the last of these missions, on Sept. 2, 1944, his plane was shot down. His two crewmen did not survive, but Bush was rescued by a U.S. submarine after floating for hours in the ocean.
As president, Bush went back to Andover, and he recalled what he remembered of Henry Stimson’s long-ago commencement speech. “He observed how the American soldier should be brave without being brutal, self-reliant without boasting, becoming a part of irresistible might without losing faith in individual liberty,” Bush said. “I never forgot those words.”
Whatever else can be said of him, the man is an unabashed patriot with a stellar character and an irrepressible spirit. To mark his birthday today and the film it will air about him this coming Sunday, CNN enumerates 41 things about 41, virtually all of which testify to his character and his spirit.
Following up on a vow he made five years ago, President Bush celebrated his birthday in Kennebunkport today with a parachute jump. Having lost the use of his legs, he made the jump in tandem with Sergeant First Class Mike Elliot. It makes me wonder what he has in mind for his ninety-fifth and pray we’ll all be around to find out.
Via Molly Wharton/NRO.