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More than 60 years have passed since a young naval aviator named George Bush came under attack while flying a mission in the Pacific theater of World War II. Forced to bail out of his bomber’s burning cockpit, he parachuted into the sea, where his life raft drifted in dangerous enemy waters.

“I knew if I wasn’t rescued, I’d be captured,” Bush later said.

At just 20 years old, Bush was in command of an Avenger, a Navy bomber that carried a crew of three. He was assigned to the new USS San Jacinto — known as the “Queen of the Texas Navy” — that was part of the Navy’s Fast Carrier Task Force in the Pacific. On the morning of September 2, 1944, with Bush in the cockpit and radioman John Delaney and gunner Ted White perched in back, their Avenger took flight from the deck of the San Jac on a bombing run. Little did any of them know that only Bush would survive that day’s mission.

“I will have to skip all the details of the attack as they would not pass the censorship,” he wrote in a letter to his parents the next day, “but the fact remains that we got hit.” Although Bush was glad to be rescued after hours adrift on the water, he agonized over his missing crewmates. “Last nite I rolled and tossed,” he wrote. “I kept reliving the whole experience. My heart aches for the families of those two boys with me.”

By the end of October, Bush was back in the air, flying bombing missions against positions at Luzon and Manila bays. By the war’s end, Bush had logged 1,228 hours of flight time, 126 carrier landings and 58 combat missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the U.S. Navy Air Medal (with two gold stars) and the U.S. Navy gold pilot’s wings.

A legacy of service >


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