PREAMBLE: I met George H. W. Bush once. And after his death late last year with all the wholesome remembrances put forth in honored tribute, that meeting has stroked a warm recollection. Bush was Vice President of the United States at the time and had flown in to Tinker aboard Air Force 2. On short notice the entourage stopped in for a tour and mission briefing by the center’s command.
On the morning Bush was to arrive, our news editor alerted me a press conference with the vice president was on schedule and he had assigned a reporter and photographer to cover the meeting. I imagined a full, if not a, mad house of media, but decided three from our papers posed no big issue and went along. Turned out Bush came to the room alone, met only by our crew, a pair from the Oklahoman and crews from a couple of television stations. I couldn’t help but think of all the corny jokes about the isolation and unimportance given to that office. Nevertheless, the meeting came close to becoming a personal interview. But it turned out pleasantly informal and conversational. Bush was gracious and personable, just like most Americans would grow to expect and value as his time as an institution came to an end.
A FATE AVERTED: As an aviator and admirer of Bush’s service as a Navy combat pilot, absorbing is the report of his escape from a threat of death after he exited his gun-riddled dive bomber and from sure capture, had a sub not miraculously surfaced to spirit him to safety. Beyond that, little has been devoted to the fate awaiting fighter pilot George Bush on Chichi Jima, his target-island, and from where he’d just been shot down. Chichi Jima is no larger than twice the size of New York Central Park. A volcanic island formed twin peaks standing 1,100 feet above the sea providing a natural “control tower” over the north Pacific and a relatively a short distance from Iwo Jima and a clear shot at the Japanese mainland. As a central communications post, Chichi was one of the most heavily defended and equally attacked positions in the Pacific war zone. Numerous aviators were shot down and captured and tortured to serve as communicators or subjected to unthinkable atrocities, including a form of cannibalism! (The commandant and his deputy were proven to be parties in the practice; both were executed after trials on Guam shortly after Japan surrendered.
A difference of minutes stood between George Bush living a life of selfless service and falling to such a gruesome, tragic end. He had celebrated his twenty-first birthday just days before this mission.
(source: FLYBOYS, a true story of courage. By James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers.)