Flying is an experience that many people around the world take for granted. The excitement and freedom of soaring through the sky can be a life-changing event, and for some, it becomes a lifelong passion. Aviation has been responsible for some of the most remarkable accomplishments in human history, from breaking speed records to landing on the moon. Many people don't know that aviation has also played a role in shaping some of our presidents. In honor of President's Day, we look at a U.S. President who was a pilot before taking office.
George Herbert Walker Bush
June 12th, 1924 − November 30th, 2018
After hearing about the Pearl Harbor attack, George Bush decided he wanted to become an aviator and enlist in the United States Navy. On his 18th birthday and after graduating from the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he enlisted into the navy. He began preflight training at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. On June 9th, 1943, just a few days before his 19th birthday, he was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve, making him one of the youngest naval aviators.
In September 1943, after completing his flight training, Bush was assigned to Torpedo Squadron (VT-51) as a photographic officer. His squadron was based on USS San Jacinto in 1944 and partook in operations against Marcus and Wake Islands in May and the Marianas Campaign that began in June. In one of the greatest air battles of World War II, the task force prevailed, and Ensign Bush's aircraft made a forced water landing while returning to the carrier and was rescued by the USS Clarence K. Bronson. On July 25th, Ensign Bush and another pilot received credit for sinking a small cargo ship.
On September 2nd, 1944, Bush was one of four pilots from VT-51 who attacked the Japanese facilities on Chi Chi Jima. The four TBM Avengers from VT-51 were hit by intense anti-aircraft fire during their assault, and Bush's plane was damaged, with his engine catching fire. He was, however, able to complete his attack and released his payload, scoring several successful hits. Although his aircraft was severely damaged, Bush flew several miles from the island where he and his crewmate bailed out and was rescued by the lifeguard submarine, USS Finback. During his 58 combat missions, his bravery earned him three Air Medals, a Presidential Unit Citation, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Bush won the 1988 presidential election with 53.4% of the popular vote and a large majority of the electoral vote and served as our U.S. President from 1989-1993. During his presidency, he led Operation Desert Shield in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and authorized American participation in the 1991 Gulf War.
He signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 to protect disabled persons from discrimination. He also was responsible for signing the Immigration Act of 1990, which increased legal immigration to the United States by 40%.
George HW Bush passed away in his home on November 30th, 2018, at age 94, after suffering from Parkinson's disease. He was the oldest living president at the time of his death, a title now held by Jimmy Carter. He was also the third-oldest vice president in history. George H. W. Bush is now buried at George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. At his funeral, his son and the former President George W. Bush eulogized his father, saying, "He looked for the good in each person, and he usually found it."
Beloved by many, a 2017 C-Span poll of historians ranked Bush as the 20th best president. As aviators and aviation enthusiasts, we will never forget him as a U.S. President who was a pilot before taking office.