Saturday, October 07, 2006

President George W Bush at the Chrisatening Ceremony of the George H.W. Bush Nimitz Aircraft Carrier

The George H. W. Bush is named for a man who exemplifies the great character of our country. On the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, George H. W. Bush was a teenager, he was a high school senior. Six months later, he was sworn into the Navy. A year later, he received his wings at a ceremony in Corpus Christi, Texas. Here is what he said. He said, "I had an ensign's stripe and an admiral's confidence." (Laughter.) "I was a Navy pilot."

Our dad would become known as one of the Navy's youngest pilots. But that wasn't his only distinction. While training along the Chesapeake Bay, the pilots in our dad's flight class learned about a beach across the way where young ladies liked to sunbathe. It became popular for the pilots to fly low over the beach. So one day he came in low to take a look. It just so happened to be the same day that a traveling circus had set up its tents. Dad's flyover upset an elephant, causing him to break lose and make a run throughout the town. He was called in for a reprimand from his commander. He puts it this way, "I was grounded for causing an elephant stampede" -- probably the only Navy pilot in American history who can make that claim.

After training, he was assigned to a light carrier. He took part in the Great Turkey Shoot of the Marianas. He knew the horror of kamikaze attacks. He would complete 58 combat missions. These were tough days, but he had something that kept him going. And if you look closely at the photographs of the planes he flew, you will find what kept him going in the name he had painted under his cockpit: Barbara.

One of Dad's most important missions was a strike on a radio tower on an island called Chichi Jima. The Japanese were using that tower to intercept U.S. military radio transmissions and alert the enemy about impending American air strikes. On September 2, 1944, his squadron was given a simple assignment: to take it out. The pilots knew they would face heavy enemy fire, because the Japanese had fortified the island. But Dad and his fellow pilots did their duty without complaint or hesitation. During that raid, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft artillery and it caught on fire. Yet he kept his plane on course, he released his four bombs, and scored four direct hits on that tower. He headed out to sea, he ejected.

Japanese boats were sent out to capture him. And after more than two harrowing hours at sea alone in a rubber life raft, he was rescued by the crew of the USS Finback. For his action, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. Yet it is characteristic that from those moments aboard his life raft to this ceremony today, Dad's thoughts have always been of the two fine members of his crew who did not make it home: Radioman Second Class John Delaney and Lieutenant JG Ted White. On that day over Chichi Jima, a young American became a war hero and learned an old lesson: With the defense of freedom comes loss and sacrifice.

The George H. W. Bush honors a generation that valued service above self. Like so many who served in World War II, duty came naturally to our father. In the four years of that war, 16 million Americans would put on the uniform. And the human costs were appalling: from the beaches of Normandy to the jungles of Southeast Asia, more than 400,000 Americans would give their lives.

(To read the entire speech click on the Title above)