This is a photo of George and Barbara Bush. George was our 41st president. Barbara was his wife and First Lady. They were married for 73 years. Barbara died last April. George died last Friday, November 30th.
Since Friday I’ve heard so many great stories about the Bushes, and I thought about my audience, the kids, teachers and parents who worked this week and couldn’t listen in. I started out with my 3 favorite stories, and now I’m up to 7. To me all these stories matter. They tell you something about George as a person. I hope they give you a great model for who you can become as you grow and learn. Most of all I hope these stories will matter to you too.
The picture below is of George as a very young man. I knew he was in World War II, but I didn’t know that he volunteered to join the Navy the day after he turned 18. His father tried to talk him out of it. George would have none of it. He believed in duty, honor, and country. Wow! I don’t know that I could have stood up to my father at 18. A year later George became the youngest Navy fighter pilot. He flew 58 missions, and he almost didn’t live to tell. This is Story #1--
On September 2, 1944, George and his two-man crew finished a dangerous mission aboard an Avenger bomber. George dropped his missiles on a Japanese radio tower on the island of Chichi Jima and headed out to sea. As he flew towards 8000 feet his plane was hit, and it caught fire. George ordered his radio operator and gunner out. He banked his plane so it was easier for them to jump. At 3000 feet George bailed out, hitting his head on the tail, landing deep in the ocean. He resurfaced, head bleeding and swallowing sea water. His crew was no where in site.
Another plane signaled the location of a life raft, and George swam for it as if his life depended on it. It did! George had time to wait and worry that the Japanese would come and capture him. To worry that his men were dead, a
nd that he hadn’t done enough to save them. With his head bleeding, his stomach churning, and his heart heavy, George cried. Then 2 hours later he spotted a periscope. George was sure he was done, that it was a Japanese submarine. It wasn’t. It was the USS submarine Finback. George was saved. He was even a hero! He won the Navy’s Distinguished Flying Cross, but George didn’t feel like a hero. From that September day of 1944 on George asked a question that followed him throughout his life, “Why me? Why did I live?” And from that moment on George answered by living a life true to his values of duty, honor, and country.
The Back Story for Story #2…
If you were born after 1989, you might not have heard of the Berlin Wall. I was born in May of 1959. The Berlin Wall dominated my life until I was 30.
Look at the map. The large one shows the city of Berlin after WWII. It was divided into 4 sectors that went to the French, British, Americans, and Soviets. By the time 1961 rolled around, basically the Americans and Soviets controlled Berlin. By then there was also an East and West Germany. If you look at the smaller map, you can see the countries that surrounded the two Germanies. Do you see Berlin? It’s the small blue area in the eastern section of East Germany. West Berlin was actually in East Germany. It made life complicated in those days, the days of the Cold War.
Why was the wall built? Because East Germans were escaping communism and socialism in the East, for a better life in the west. The wall was built in the middle of the night on August 13, 1961. I was 2 years old.
Why middle of the night? Because the Soviets were pulling a sneak attack, trying to stop people leaving. After the wall was built, guards were posted. If you tried to escape you were shot. If you went in legally from West Berlin to East, you went through Checkpoint Charlie. There were American guards on one side, Soviet guards on the other, and they all had guns. It was scary to go from East to West. One wrong word, and you could be imprisoned. If you watch old spy movies from the 1960’s to the late 1980’s, you’ll see what life was like back then. The Cold War was a scary time. We feared a nuclear war with the Soviets.
On November 9th, 1989, the wall came down. I was 30 years old, and home on maternity leave. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The 1st picture was from those incredible days in 1989.
The 2nd picture was probably taken later. It’s Ronald Reagan, a famous American President. I’ve never seen this picture before, but I know Reagan’s role in the wall coming down, and his advisors told him not to do
it. Reagan ignored them. He held onto his principles. On June 12, 1987 he stood in front of the wall, and gave a famous speech. He called out to the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. He said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Gorbachev refused.
George H.W. Bush was Reagan’s vice president. He’d also been the US Ambassador to the UN, the CIA director, and the US Ambassador to China. He knew world leaders, and he worked behind the scenes to make things happen.
I stood in front of the wall for the 1st time in 2007. The wall looked a lot like this.
The 2nd mural wasn’t there yet. Do you recognize the 2 figures? They’re Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan, but the most interesting thing is Bush is missing. That’s story #2, Bush’s part in this tale.
The wall came down in 1989. George H.W. Bush was now president, and his work with Gorbachev made it happen. He didn’t drop the ball, but he helped the wall come down. I think he should be there, but 41 wasn’t about taking credit. He was about duty, honor, and country.
41 was told by his advisors to get to the wall and get his picture taken there. It would show his success. It’d help him get re-elected. Bush refused. He thought it was more important to be a friend to Gorbachev and the Soviet people.
He was right! A year later on October 3, 1990 East and West Germany united after 45 years apart. I didn’t think it’d ever happen, and I never gave 41 credit. Neither did our press, but 2 people did after George died. Brian Mulroney, the Canadian Prime Minister, spoke at 41’s funeral and told the story of how Bush worked with his friends to help the German people. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, told reporters that Bush was one of the father’s of German Reunification. Wow! What a great compliment! She also paid her respects by attending his funeral.
This is a picture of the 20th anniversary of German reunification in 2008. Here are some of Germany’s fathers: Mikhail Gorbachev, George H.W. Bush, and Helmut Kohl. He was the Chancellor of West Germany back in 1988.
This is a picture of the same 3 leaders at the 25th anniversary, Gorbachev, Bush, and Kohl. I picked this picture because it features Angela chatting with Barbara Bush. It makes me happy to see these leaders celebrate making a difference. Here’s to duty, honor, and country!
Story Number 3 is about friendship. I have a few friends I made in college. That was 40 years ago, but none of them have lasted as long as George’s.
George met Alan Simpson back in 1962. They were friends for 56 years. In 2011 George asked Alan to speak at his funeral. Alan did. He told stories about their friendship. Most people are fair weather friends. They’re only there for the good times, but not George!
This story stuck with me. Alan was the senator from Wyoming. People were mad because he pushed for cuts in popular programs like Social Security and Medicare. He believed the government needed to save money to cut the national debt. Alan laughed that his popularity rating was less than 1%.
George was at the height of his popularity, at 93%. As president, he put together a group of countries, and they fought together to free Kuwait from Iraq. George was a hero!
Most people wouldn’t have invited the Simpsons to dinner, but George invited them to spend a weekend at Camp David. As they headed off to the helicopter, George laughed and told Alan to smile and wave to the reporters. No one waved back. The pictures landed in the Sunday papers, but the Bushes and the Simpsons didn't care. They had a great weekend anyway.
Story Number 4— three stories in one. Before I write, I always search for pictures. Today I found two new stories while looking for those pictures so I’ll share all 3.
When you’re president or vice president, the Secret Service is a big perk. They’re there to protect you. They’re there to serve you. This picture was taken in 2011 when the Secret Service helped 41 leave the ball park after watching the Houston Astros play baseball.
George was a favorite of the Secret Service. It’s because he treated them as people. He didn’t see himself as more important. I didn’t know either of these 2 small stories until I searched for those pictures. Are you ready? This is really yummy! George and the Secret Service agents often got the munchies in the middle of the night. They’d raid the kitchen for milk and cookies together. YUM! My kind of president!
This is even sweeter! George and his family stayed in DC for Christmas Eve so their agents could spend Christmas with their families. The day after Christmas they’d head to Texas. What a great boss! Unfortunately, not all former presidents or vice presidents are this nice. You can google to find out who’s nice and who’s not.
I was searching for the picture above. It was taken in 2013. It shows 41 with a toddler on his lap. The second picture is 41’s security detail. They shaved their heads to show support for a fellow agent whose toddler had leukemia. George found out and refused to sit this picture out. He shaved his head to support his security guys. I think that’s incredible. Another sweet detail, leukemia is the same disease that took his daughter Robin in 1953. George never forgot Robin, ever.
BTW, I didn’t look this one up, but George and the toddler took another picture together 3 years later. I’m glad to report they both had hair!
Story Number 5— Lost and Found, Argument and Forgiveness. Do you remember 41’s first story, about his plane going down just off the island of Chichi Jima? He was lucky. He lived to tell, but he never forgot his crew.
Time passed. 41 became president. His son George did too. Another son Jeb wanted to run, but Donald Trump beat him for the Republican nomination. It wasn’t pretty, and the Bushes were mad.
Trump went on to become president. The Bushes voted against Trump, but they forgave him. They went on to work with him on one special project. This is that story.
Barbara reached out to Donald in a letter in January of 2018. She wrote about a plane that went down during World War II. Barbara asked for help in searching the ocean floor to bring that crew home. I thought the plane was George’s from Chichi Jima, but I searched and found only this report for the Palau Islands.
Here’s a map to show both crashes. Find the P in Japan. That’s close to Tokyo. Go straight south down to Iwo Jima. Chichi Jima is somewhere in the middle, to the southeast of Japan. That’s where 41’s plane went down. Neither the plane nor its crew have been found.
Continue south past Iwo Jima down to the line that says Central Pacific Area. Go west, and you’ll see the Palau Islands. That’s where the most recent wreckage was found.
The job was finished in 2 months. It was hard with 1-6 divers working 12-hour days at the bottom of the sea. The Army, Navy, and Air Force worked as a team to complete the mission. This is what one plane looked like after over 70 years on the ocean floor. YIKES!
Work started in January, 2018 to remove 70 years of sand and ocean life. It was finished by the end of February/early March, Donald called George to report 2 men were found, but not 41’s crew. Trump expected him to be disappointed, but George was glad that 2 more Americans were coming home.
I found these 2 links for the Palau Island story. They both reported that more than one body was found, but no identification had been made. That takes more time. Here are the links if you’d like to read more of this story.
Story Number 6— Generosity of Spirit and Word Power. I didn’t get any pictures of 41 this time. That’s because George did everything privately, for the Pence family. This story wasn’t supposed to be told, and those are the best kinds of stories!
Do you recognize this man? He’s the Vice President, Mike Pence. He was one of the speakers for 41 when he laid in state in the Capital Dome. Mike spoke for 11 minutes, but I remember this story. It’s a personal story about Mike, his son, and 41.
Mike’s son is a 1st lieutenant in the marines. He had someone take a picture of his first tail-hook landing on an aircraft carrier. The name of the carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush.
Mike has known 41 for years. He knew Bush had stopped doing autographs, but he sent the picture and a note, just in case, hoping for that autograph. Not only did Bush sign the picture, he sent a note too. Here’s what 41 wrote, “Though we have not met, I share the pride your father has for you during this momentous occasion. And I wish you many CAVU days ahead.”
CAVU, I think everyone in the room said CAVU, then what’s that. CAVU stands for Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited. Mike’s son knew what it meant. It’s a Navy pilot’s term to describe the best kind of weather for flying off an aircraft carrier. I bet it’s what they want when they land too. BTW tailhook is something attached to the wings of the fighter jet. It catches the plane when it lands so that it can slow down and stop before it runs off the edge of the carrier. The plane has 1092 feet to stop. That’s 364 yards or about 3.5 football fields. That sounds like enough till you discover a plane gets 13,123 feet for a typical runway. That’s 4,374 yards or about 44 football fields. Navy pilots are great!
I’ve read that George thought CAVU described his life. Pence thought it was the vision 41 had for his children, his grandchildren, and his country. That’s what I want for all of us too, lots of CAVU days ahead!
Research link for this post: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/12/03/george-h-w-bush-honored-vice-president-pence-acronym-cavu/2197158002/
Story Number 7— The Final Story, Remembering the Past, Seeking the Future.
This story got my attention. It’s what made me want to write this post.
In his last year George talked about death, and life after death with his pastor. He wanted to know if he’d see Robin again, and he wondered what she’d look like. Would she be the 3-year-old he remembered, or a 65-year-old woman he didn’t recognize?
I’d forgotten about Robin till this week. She had leukemia and died in 1953. She never got to turn 4 or ride a school bus. I can’t imagine losing a child, but the Bushes had to. They never forgot their little girl, but life had to go on. They already had a son George W and would go on to have 3 boys and another girl. Dorothy was born 6 years later, the same year I was born.
For both George and Barbara, there was one thing they looked forward to in death, and that was seeing Robin again. I listened to 43’s eulogy about his father, and I remember how it closed. I think that’s the way this post should too. George W said, “And in our grief, let us smile knowing that dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.” I hope so too.
Research links for this storry: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/12/03/george-hw-bush-loss-daughter-robin-would-thread-through-his-life/2183444002/
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When I write, I can only have one voice in my head, mine. A little noise is fine. But too much, or worse yet, WORDS, and I must change rooms or pull out headphones. Then I can write on!