George HW Bush: Remembering the War Hero and Icon

The passing of the 41st President of United States created waves, both positive and negative. George Herbert Walker Bush, also known as “Poppy”, “George Bush Senior” and “Bush 41”, died in November 30, 2018. He lived the longest among all US presidents, having lived 94 years and 171 days. But having lived the longest is not George Senior’s only remarkable achievement in his life.

George Bush Sr. was born on June 12, 1924 to parents Dorothy Walker Bush and Prescott Sheldon Bush, in Milton, Massachusetts. His father, Prescott, was an investment banker and served as a senator between 1956 and 1963.

Even as a young man, Poppy excelled in whatever he did and showed he was leader-material. When he was studying in Andover’s Phillips Academy, he became secretary of the student council, president of his senior class, and president of a fundraising organization.

Still at Phillips Academy, George was an active young man who enjoyed sports. He was team captain of both soccer and baseball teams. When he’s not playing sports, he’s helping manage the school paper as a member of the board of editors.

While he was still studying in the Academy, World War II broke out. After he graduated, he enlisted in the US Navy the moment he turned 18. He completed the 10-month training and was immediately commissioned by the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi as an ensign, making him among the youngest of Navy aviators.

As a Navy aviator, Bush Senior has been part of the largest battles of the Second World War, including the Battle of the Philippine Sea. When he was 20, he is said to be the only one who escaped the Chichi Jima Incident, wherein Japanese military shot US planes and ate the body parts of some of the captured Americans.

After the surrender of Japan, George HW Bush was then honorably discharged. In his entire Navy run, he flew a total of fifty eight combat missions. He was decorated with three Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross. His unit, San Jacinto, was also given the Presidential Unit Citation.

On January 6, 1945, George married Barbara Pierce, whom he was engaged to before he went off to serve in the US Navy. The former first lady died in April of 2018, just a few months before George himself passed away. They had been married for 73 years.

George and Barbara had six children, namely George Walker (the 43rd President of the United States), Pauline Robinson “Robin” (who died at three years old due to leukemia), John Ellis “Jeb” (the 43rd Governor of Florida), Neil Mallon (a businessman), Marvin (also a businessman), and Dorothy “Doro” (an author and philanthropist).

While taking an undergraduate economics degree at Yale University, Bush’s passion for sports did not abate. He became the team captain of Yale baseball team. As team captain, he met Babe Ruth in front of audiences before a game in 1948.

After graduating in Yale, George Senior started working in the oil industry as an oil field equipment salesman. He eventually moved on to actually co-founding Zapata Oil. He then became president of Zapata Offshore Company, a subsidiary of Zapata Petroleum Corporation.

His political career started in 1963, when he became chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, in Texas. It was in 1966, though, when he finally landed a seat in the House of Representatives, representing the 7th District of Texas.

In 1970, then President Nixon asked Bush to bow out of his congressional position in order to run for senate. His sacrifice did not pay off though, as Bush Senior lost the senatorial race to Lloyd Bentsen.

President Nixon valued Bush’s efforts to vacate his congressional seat and run for senate at his request. To show his appreciation, the then president nominated him for the position of US Ambassador to the UN. Bush served as US Ambassador from 1971 to 1973.

After serving as a liaison officer to China, Bush went back to Washington to replace William Colby as the Director for Central Intelligence in 1976. He remained CIA’s director until January of 1977. He vacated the position at the start of the Carter administration.

In 1980, George HW Bush decided to run for presidency. He was head to head with Ronald Reagan, then a former Governor of California. Bush’s campaign was in full momentum, but it was cut short by the iconic debate between the two contenders in the Nashua, New Hampshire Presidential Debate. Bush subsequently lost the New Hampshire primary to Reagan.

Reagan, at the very last minute, chose Bush to be his vice presidential nominee. This announcement effectively helped the continuance of Bush’s political career, which he thought was about to end. He was then part of the winning presidential ticket in 1980.

As Reagan’s vice president, Bush served from 1981 to 1985, and won reelection to serve from 1985 to 1989. The president and vice president’s relationship was very shaky in the beginning. They were former opponents to the presidency after all.

Early in Reagan’s administration, an attempted assassination on Ronald Reagan occurred. While the then president was seriously wounded and was being treated, Bush (as a vice president who was next in line), was flown to D.C. Bush, however, refused to proceed to the White House directly, and was quoted as saying “only the president lands on the South Lawn”. This remark impressed Reagan, which led to a better relationship between the two heads of the country afterwards.  

Bush started his presidential campaign in 1988. Although he was currently serving as vice president, he was trailing his opponents. However, he gained his constituents’ favor when he gave his very popular speech in the Republican National Convention. The speech is affectionately called the “thousand points of light” speech.

The election campaign between then Vice President Bush and then Governor of California Michael Dukakis is deemed to be one of the dirtiest election campaigns ever. It was Bush, however, who came out on top together with his running mate Dan Quayle. They served from 1989 to 1993.

Inspired by his “thousand points of light” speech, Bush created the Points of Light Movement in 1990. It is a non-profit organization whose heart is on volunteerism. From this organization stemmed the Daily Point of Light Award, which recognizes individuals and groups who do volunteer work. The Award continues today, with 6,000 winners and counting.

One of the biggest controversies of Bush’s presidency was his decision to invade Panama with his Operation Just Cause. It was a controversial mission whose aim is to remove Panama’s Manuel Noriega from the seat of power. Noriega has been accused with trafficking drugs into the US, and has consequently been convicted in the US, France and his home country Panama.

Bush’s involvement in the Gulf War further shaped his administration. Iraq led by its then president Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait. After receiving a request for military aid by the Saudi Arabia Government who also feared invasion, the US sent troops to help remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. This mission was called Operation Desert Shield.

Although the mission was over and successful in liberating Kuwait in just 100 days, it left 20,000 Iraqis dead, including civilians. This prompted lawsuits against George HW Bush. One such lawsuit was lodged in Belgium by Iraqi families who lost loved ones in the bombing of the Amiriyah Shelter in Baghdad, claiming Bush committed war crimes.

Although Bush’s administration was successful in its international exploits, Americans felt that United States’ economy was on the downturn. He promised no new taxes in his presidential campaign, but Bush agreed to increased tax during his term. This gave Republicans an impression of betrayal.

Bush sought for reelection in 1992, but was unsuccessful. Although his foreign policies no doubt succeeded, his local policies did not. Political experts say this was mainly due to Bush getting back on his promise of “Read my lips: No new taxes”. The US economy was coming out of recession then, and seven out of ten voters rated the economy as below average.

The presidential campaign between Bill Clinton and Bush Senior was not without tension. Although Bush took his defeat hard (as he firmly believed he would win), he was gracious in his exit. He left a very cordial and endearing customary letter for President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office, which Clinton greatly appreciated.

When Bush Senior stepped down from the White House, his following agenda was to support the political careers of his sons, George W and Jeb. George W ran for the gubernatorial position in Texas, while his younger brother Jeb ran for the same position in Florida. The former succeeded in his bid, while the latter failed on his first attempt.

George HW supported his eldest son’s bid for the presidency. George W eventually won the presidential election in 2000 and became the 43rd President of the United States. This prompted people to create nicknames for the former president to distinguish him from the current one. He was called “Bush the Elder”, “Bush Senior”, “Bush 41” and “George HW”, among others.

In late 2004, Bush 41 and Clinton worked together (as devised by younger Bush) to raise funds and provide relief to areas affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Working together, the two former rivals hit it off and became friends ever since. Bush Senior often jokingly referred to himself as the father Clinton never had.

In February of 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Bush Senior the Presidential Medal of Honor, the highest award given to a civilian. Obama and Bush Senior also worked together in 2017 with One America to help communities that were victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Points of Light Institute paid tribute to George HW Bush and his wife Barbara in March of 2011 for their contribution in promoting volunteerism. Former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W also attended the event which was held at the JFK Center for Performing Arts.

To fulfill a promise, Bush Senior skydived on his 90th birthday near his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine. The former president has done the same on his 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays. His tandem jump on his 90th birthday was a success, considering he is already wheelchair-bound.

Bush Senior also supported his son Jeb’s presidential bid in 2016. The younger Bush, however, struggled during the elections and had to withdraw during the primaries. No one in the Bush household supported then nominee Donald Trump, who subsequently won the elections.

Bush Senior was devastated by the passing of his wife Barbara on the 17th of April, 2018. Even while he himself was already with failing health, he managed to attend his wife’s funeral in a wheel chair. Their marriage of 73 years was the longest in the history of American presidents.

George Herbert Walker Bush passed away seven months after Barbara. He was the longest –lived president of the United States. And though his political career was not without issues and controversies, he lived full and well according to his strong beliefs.