Tribute to President George H.W. Bush


In observance of the national day of mourning for President Bush, we’re proudly displaying a print from our collection that he signed along with some of his fellow veterans. By now you’ve probably heard that he was a naval aviator who survived being shot down during World War II. Low Holding over San Jacinto by Robert Taylor depicts Lt. j.g. Bush’s TBM Avenger and three of his squadron mates preparing to land on USS San Jacinto (CVL-30).

Low Holding Over San Jacinto by Robert Taylor
(click to enlarge)
Before he fought in the Pacific Theater, Bush trained at several locations on the East Coast including Naval Auxilliary Air Station Charlestown here in Rhode Island. Charlestown was used to prepare pilots for night operations, and part of his training included practice landings on the outline of an aircraft carrier deck painted on the runway. He later referred to those exercises as “damn good training.”

On September 2, 1944, Bush flew one of four aircraft from VT-51 that was assigned to attack a radio tower on the island of Chichi Jima (part of the Ogasawara archipelago that also includes Iwo Jima). The Japanese Army was using the radio tower to send warnings of incoming B-29 raids from Saipan and Tinian. As Bush approached the target, his aircraft was hit by antiaircraft fire. Damaged but not disabled, he dropped his bombs on target before turning around and heading out to sea. But smoke eventually filled the cabin to the point where Bush had to bail out. Neither of the other two crew members survived. An American submarine, USS Finback (SS-230), had been assigned lifeguard duty for the raid and was in the area waiting to pick up downed air crew. Friendly aircraft guided Finback to the wet and wounded Bush who had been floating in a small life raft for four hours. Bush earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in the Chichi Jima raid.

Low Holding Over San Jacinto is signed by George Bush and nine other members of VT-51. Their names are Leo Nadeau (gunner on Bush’s crew), Nat Adams, R.A. Alexander, Jack Guy, William Hile, L.R. Hole, Sam Jackson, Joseph Martelle, and Richard Playstead.

(click to enlarge)

Rob Doane
Curator
Naval War College Museum

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