Like many of the men elected to the Presidency of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush came from privilege.   His father was the managing partner of the country’s largest bank.   When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor,  he was attending one of the most prestigious preparatory schools in the nation, and was already accepted to Yale.  And yet, against his parent’s advice and wishes, he chose to risk all of that and answer the call to serve. [1]

I wish I could say that during my teenage years, when I decided that I wanted to join the navy and fly, that I was influenced by the fact that the sitting President had been a naval aviator.   However, I must admit, at the time, I wasn’t at all aware of George Bush’s service of the Second World War, perhaps because in his public speeches he rarely, if ever, mentioned it.   Nor did he speak of how close he came to losing his life in the South Pacific at Chichi Jima.   Like many in our nation, I didn’t comprehend what an incredible man he was until hindsight allowed a deeper appreciation.

In public, he could come across as stiff and reserved, a product of his time and upbringing.   Yet he uniquely combined a New England patrician air with a down-to-earth Texan sensibility, both of which served him well.   As the Berlin War came down and Eastern European nations began to reject communism, he deftly managed the end of the Cold War, keeping a steady hand on the tiller and allowing events to unfold without undue U.S. influence, secure in his faith that freedom and democracy would ultimately prevail.  When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, he and his remarkable foreign policy team made the moral case for action, assembled a coalition of like-minded nations, made the necessary military preparations while pursuing a diplomatic solution, and executed a near-flawless campaign to liberate Kuwait, with the wisdom to know when to halt operations once the political objective had been obtained.

And yet despite his calm leadership and prudent decision-making, he was turned out of office after only one term, because he was seen as out of touch (he didn’t go on MTV, play the saxophone, and talk about his underwear), the economy wasn’t doing well, and he had to reverse a promise to not raise taxes, in order to follow the higher principle of compromise in an effort to keep our country fiscally sound.

He was a statesman, a gentleman, a father, and a sailor.  He served his country with humility and distinction.  Fair winds and following seas to the last of our truly great Presidents.

 

[1] Bradley, James. Flyboys: A True Story of Courage.  New York: Back Bay Books, 2003.

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