Naval History: Did you know that Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Bush crashed into the sea not once, but twice?! Upon hearing of the Pearl Harbor attack, while a student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, George H. W. Bush decided he wanted to join the Navy to become an aviator.
LTJG Bush joined the Navy on his 18th birthday and began pre-flight training at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After completing the 10-month course, he was commissioned as an Ensign (ENS) in the US Naval Reserve in 1943, several days before his 19th birthday; making him the youngest Naval aviator at the time.
After finishing flight training, he was assigned to Torpedo Squadron VT-51 as photographic officer.
As part of Air Group 51, his squadron was based on USS SAN JACINTO in 1944. USS SAN JACINTO in was part of Task Force 58 that participated in operations against Marcus and Wake Islands in May, and then in the Marianas during June.
On 19 June 1944, the task force triumphed in one of the largest air battles of the war. During the return of his aircraft from the mission, ENS Bush's aircraft made a forced water landing. The destroyer, USS CLARENCE K. BRONSON, rescued the crew, but the plane was lost.
On 25 July 1944, ENS Bush and another pilot received credit for sinking a small cargo ship.
After George H. W. Bush was promoted to LTJG in August 1944, USS SAN JACINTO in commenced operations against the Japanese in the Bonin Islands. On 2 September 1944, LTJG Bush piloted one of four aircraft from VT-51 that attacked the Japanese installations on Chi Chi Jima. For this mission his crew included Radioman Second Class John Delaney, and LTJG William White, who substituted for LTJG Bush's regular gunner. During their attack, four TBM Avengers from VT-51 encountered intense antiaircraft fire. While starting the attack, LTJG Bush's aircraft was hit and his engine caught on fire. Despite his plane being on fire, Bush completed his attack and released bombs over his target, scoring several damaging hits. With his engine ablaze, Bush flew several miles from the island, where he and one other crew member on the TBM Avenger bailed out of the aircraft; the other man's parachute did not open. Bush waited for four hours in an inflated raft, while several fighters circled protectively overhead until he was rescued by the lifeguard submarine USS Finback. For the next month he remained on the Finback, and participated in the rescue of other pilots.
George Bush in his TBM Avenger on the carrier USS San Jacinto in 1944 Bush subsequently returned to San Jacinto in November 1944 and participated in operations in the Philippines until his squadron was replaced and sent home to the United States. Through 1944, he flew 58 combat missions for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to San Jacinto.
Because of his valuable combat experience, Bush was reassigned to Norfolk Navy Base and put in a training wing for new torpedo pilots. He was later assigned as a naval aviator in a new torpedo squadron, VT-153, based at Naval Air Station Grosse Ile, Michigan. Upon the Japanese surrender in 1945, Bush was honorably discharged in September of that year.
"Lieutenant Junior Grade George Bush, USNR". Naval Historical Center. April 6, 2001
"Former President George Bush honored at his 60th reunion at Phillips Academy, Andover". Phillips Academy. June 8, 2002. Archived from the original on April 1, 2008.
Adams, Kathy (January 10, 2009). "San Jacinto veterans reunite, recall the one they called 'Skin'". The Virginian Pilot (Landmark Communications).
"Story of George H. W. Bush World War II Experience". CNN. December 20, 2003.
"History's Youngest Naval Aviator: George H. W. Bush". Mid-Atlantic Air Museum.