“If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on / It outlives me when I’m gone / Like the scripture says: ‘Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree / And no one shall make them afraid’ / They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made.”— Lin-Manuel Miranda, “One Last Time” (Hamilton)
The late former president George Herbert Walker Bush was born at the tail-end of what Tom Brokaw has named the Greatest Generation. It is no wonder why his funeral felt like a farewell salute to a past era in our history. In many ways, Bush and his contemporaries are such a rare breed. In their eyes glimmer a light from a time gone past.
When George W. Bush gave the eulogy for his father, it reminded me of the eulogy I delivered for my own father a few years back. I suppose we all see a little of our fathers, or our grandfathers, in the late 41st President of the United States. Like H.W., my father loved the song “Amazing Grace.” Like H.W., he often wished for a kinder and gentler nation. As for me, like H.W., I’m a “sock man.” And like H.W., a yellow lab entered my life when a loved one passed away.
When you begin to learn about historical figures like Alexander Hamilton or John F. Kennedy, you start to notice the many hats they’ve worn throughout their lives. It’s almost like they lived several lifetimes during their short time here on earth. George H.W. Bush was no different — he was a giant amongst men.
H.W.’s death was a timely reminder of all those who served, and those who we lost, in World War II. It is rather fitting, on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, we remember and honor H.W. alongside the 2,403 U.S. citizens who were fatally killed in a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Without further ado, here are three great facts about our former president:
- H.W. was a first baseman and captain of the 1948 Yale baseball team. As Yale University Athletics’ website states:
Affectionately known by his teammates as “Poppy” back in his playing days, the lanky Bulldogs’ first baseman played in arguably the most memorable period of Yale baseball’s 150-year existence.
From 1946 to 1948, the Elis made two College World Series appearances, received a visit from a baseball legend, and watched one of their own become an American icon.
Bush, the 1948 team captain, shook hands with Yankee legend Babe Ruth on June 5, 1948, at Yale Field, as the “Bambino” donated the manuscript of his book “The Babe Ruth Story” to the Yale Library. After the ceremony, Yale defeated Princeton, 14-2, and Bush had a hit and a run scored in the victory.
- H.W. was one of the youngest pilots in World War II and survived two plane crashes. According to Air and Space Magazine’s Barret Tillman:
George H.W. Bush [was] one of the youngest naval aviators of World War II, who has the most impressive record of America’s pilot-presidents. Not quite 19 upon receiving his wings, he flew TBM Avenger torpedo bombers from the carrier USS San Jacinto in 1944. It was said that Bush was ‘one of Grumman’s best customers,’ having ditched one Avenger with engine trouble and parachuted from another.
On a mission over the Bonin Islands, Japanese flak set Bush’s Avenger afire. He remained airborne long enough to reach open water. Though his two crewmen perished after bailing out with Bush, the future president was rescued by submarine…. For his 58 combat missions, Lieutenant Junior Grade Bush was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals.
- Sully H.W. Bush, the yellow lab service dog, landed in H.W.’s lap shortly after the death of his wife, Barbara. As CBS News reported:
Sully was named after the pilot who successfully landed the plane in the Hudson River back in 2009. The yellow lab has performed some miracles of his own, and he began his life on Long Island….
‘You saw the picture [of Sully in front of H.W.’s coffin] that the president’s team posted and you just got chills,’ said John Miller of America’s VetDogs. There were chills for sure in Smithtown, where Sully was trained by America’s VetDogs. He was then presented to the 41st president shortly after the death of his wife, Barbara.
President Bush tweeted then that it was, ‘A great joy to welcome home the newest member of our family, Sully, a beautiful — and beautifully trained — lab from @AmericasVetDogs. Could not be more grateful, especially for their commitment to our veterans.’
Yesterday, The Oak Ridge Boys sang a sweet rendition of “Amazing Grace” at H.W.’s casket, which served as a symbolic curtain call to a life well lived. Former marine and Secretary of State James Baker, and close friend of H.W.’s for over 60 years, dubbed H.W. “a charter member of the Greatest Generation” and wished him a final farewell in his eulogy — from a serviceman to a serviceman. And Sully took the opportunity to lie by George Herbert Walker Bush’s side one last time.
Rest in peace, #41. You will be missed, but never forgotten.