George H. W. Bush: A Life of Distinguished Service to the Nation (UPDATED)
This morning on ABC’s “This Week,” George Stephanopoulos along with former secretaries of state James A. Baker III and Colin L. Powell reflected on the life of George H. W. Bush.
All three paid eloquent and memorable tribute to our 41st President.
I would like to selectively focus on some of Colin Powell’s words in the context of the political nightmare our nation is presently experiencing.
Part of his interview can be seen here.
I thought he was a perfect American in terms how he served the country in so many capacities…throughout that entire period he never forgot who he was. He never let it all go to his head. He was a man of great humility. He was humble…
He was always kind, he was always contained within himself. He didn’t let emotions get on top of him. And frankly, he was a — he was a product of his parents, who told him, you know, don’t show off, George, just always remember, you’re humble, you work for people, you serve people…
He knew what combat was all about. He knew that combat meant the death of people, people on your side and people on the other side. And so, he wanted to avoid a war.
…it was — it’s in his DNA not to gloat, not to be a braggart.
[About why Bush did not attend the New York parade after the Desert Storm victory]: President Bush said I won’t be there. You won’t be there, why not? It’s a parade for troops — General Schwarzkopf, the troops, the chairman, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary Cheney — I will not attend. This is for them, not for me. And then, he attended the one in Washington. But I — I can think of very few people that I have known in senior positions who would have passed up an opportunity like that.
A life of quality, a life of honor, a life of honesty, a life of total concern for the American people (emphasis mine). Everything he thought of, everything he did in public life, was always directed to helping the American people. He was a patriot; he demonstrated that in war, he demonstrated that in peace.
He was the most qualified person with respect to foreign policy ever to serve as President of the United States of America and he was able to demonstrate that for the four years of his service…
Thank you General Powell
George Herbert Walker Bush, our 41st President, has died at age 94.
At the time of his presidency, I was not a big political fan of the 41st President.
However, as time has lapsed since his presidency, and especially during these last two years I have come to increasingly respect and appreciate George H. W. Bush for his distinguished service to country not only as the 41st president but also as a World War II War hero before that and for the decency he has displayed after his presidency as truly a good and decent man.
Many articles, obituaries and words of condolences highlight the President’s military background and accomplishments, and they should, for he was a military hero before his presidency and he had many military accomplishments as commander in chief, including that major military victory known as Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait.
It is thus fitting to quote here the statement by Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis on the Passing of President George H.W. Bush:
President George Herbert Walker Bush, naval aviator, decorated in his youth for valor in combat, took his experience in war to build a better world as our commander in chief. His service to our nation demonstrated how we as a people can draw on our humility, diversity and devotion to our country to meet every challenge with fortitude and confidence. We will miss him, but at the going down of the day, his example will long guide our Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines for how to live life without regret.
It is equally fitting to publish an excellent article by DoD’s Jim Garamone describing a Bush legacy that “Includes Decisive Military Action:”
His background was a little different than most who join the military at the age of eighteen, but his warmth, love of country and drive to serve made him a leader respected up and down his chains of command.
President George H.W. Bush meets with troops in Saudi Arabia on Thanksgiving during the Gulf War, Nov. 22, 1990. Photo courtesy of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
Service members who worked with former President George H.W. Bush, first as Ronald Reagan’s vice president and, later, during his presidential term, spoke of the way he remembered their names and would ask about their families. They were loyal to him and he was loyal right back.
Bush himself said it best in his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1989: “We are not the sum of our possessions. They are not the measure of our lives. In our hearts we know what matters. We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood and town better than he found it.
“What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us? Or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?”
Bush, who died last night at age 94, was born June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts. He graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, on his 18th birthday in 1942 and immediately joined the Navy. With World War II raging, Bush earned his wings in June 1943. He was the youngest pilot in the Navy at that time.
Flew Torpedo Bombers
The future president flew torpedo bombers off the USS San Jacinto in the Pacific. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a mission over Chichi Jima in 1944. Even though his plane was hit by antiaircraft fire, he completed his bombing run before turning to the sea. Bush managed to bail out of the burning aircraft, but both of his crewmen died. The submarine USS Finback rescued him.
On Jan. 6, 1945, Bush married Barbara Pierce of Rye, New York. They had six children: George, Robin (who died of leukemia in 1953), Jeb, Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy Bush Koch.
After the war, Bush attended Yale and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1948. He and his wife moved to Texas, where he entered the oil business. Bush served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1966 to 1970.
In 1971, then-President Richard Nixon named Bush as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, where he served until becoming chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1973. In October 1974, President Gerald R. Ford named Bush chief of the U.S. liaison office in Beijing, and in 1976, Ford appointed him to be director of central intelligence.
Vice President, Then President
In 1980, Bush ran for the Republican presidential nomination. Ronald Reagan won the primaries and secured the nomination, and he selected Bush as his running mate. On Jan. 20, 1981, Bush was sworn in for the first of two terms as vice president.
From left, radioman Joe Reichert, Navy Lt. jg. George H.W. Bush, and turret gunner Leo W. Nadeau, stand in front of their TBM-1C Avenger, Nov. 2, 1944. The crew was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto. Photo courtesy of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
The Republicans selected Bush as presidential nominee in 1988. His pledge at the national convention — “Read my lips: no new taxes” — probably got him elected, but may have worked to make him a one-term president.
Bush became the 41st president of the United States and presided over the victory of the West. During his tenure, the Berlin Wall – a symbol of communist oppression since 1961 – fell before the appeal of freedom. The nations of Eastern Europe withdrew from the Warsaw Pact and freely elected democracies began taking hold.
Even more incredible was the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself. Kremlin hard-liners tried to seize power and enforce their will, but Boris Yeltsin rallied the army and citizens for freedom. Soon, nations long under Soviet domination peeled away and began new eras.
In 1989, Bush ordered the U.S. military in to Panama to overthrow the government of Gen. Manuel Noriega. Noriega had allowed Panama to become a haven for narcoterrorists, and he subsequently was convicted of drug offenses.
But Bush is best remembered for his swift and decisive efforts following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. The Iraqi dictator claimed that Kuwait historically was his country’s “19th province.” His troops pushed into Kuwait and threatened to move into Saudi Arabia.
Bush drew “a line in the sand” and promised to protect Saudi Arabia and liberate Kuwait. He put together a 30-nation coalition that liberated Kuwait in February 1991. Operation Desert Storm showed Americans and the world the devastating power of the U.S. military.
At the end of the war, Bush had historic approval ratings from the American people. But a recession – in part caused by Saddam’s invasion – and having to backtrack on his pledge not to raise taxes cost him the election in 1992. With third-party candidate Ross Perot pulling in 19 percent of the vote, Bill Clinton was elected president.
Bush lived to see his son – George W. Bush – elected president, and he worked with the man who defeated him in 2006 to raise money for millions of people affected by an Indian Ocean tsunami and for Hurricane Katrina relief.
In his inaugural address, the elder Bush spoke about America having a meaning “beyond what we see.” The idea of America and what it stands for is important in the world, he said.
“We know what works: freedom works. We know what’s right: Freedom is right. We know how to secure a more just and prosperous life for man on Earth: through free markets, free speech, free elections and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state,” he said.
“We must act on what we know,” he said later in the speech. “I take as my guide the hope of a saint: in crucial things, unity; in important things, diversity; in all things, generosity.”
It was the mark of the man.
Our most sincere condolences to the Bush family.
Lead photo: U.S. President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush wave as they stand in the back of a vehicle during a visit to a desert encampment in Saudi Arabia, Nov. 22, 1990. The president and his wife sere paying Thanksgiving Day visits to U.S. troops who were in Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield. (U.S. Navy photo by CW02 Ed Bailey) Mrs. Barbara Bush preceded her husband in death nearly seven months ago.