By Jay Jamison
The more I watched the TV coverage of the ceremonies for the late President George H. W. Bush, the more frustrated I became. My anger was directed toward members of the media repeating a falsehood about the biography of the 41st President. They continually told their viewers that George Bush was a navy fighter pilot during World War II, which is false. Had any one of the media talkers taken the time to check the record, rather than parroting what everyone else was saying, they could have delivered an even more compelling story about the man who was the youngest pilot in the navy in 1943. For the record, George H. W. Bush piloted a large, lumbering, Avenger torpedo bomber, while assigned to the aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto. This aircraft was not a nimble fighter, but rather it was a large single engine bomber, with a crew of three, including the pilot. The USS San Jacinto was designated a light carrier, which had a 633-foot flight deck. It’s nothing short of miraculous that a fully-loaded Avenger, weighing up to 17,800 pounds, with a top speed of only 276 miles-per-hour, could be successfully launched off of a ship tossing over the waves, with only a couple hundred feet of available runway. Crude steam catapults were sometimes used to launch heavy aircraft such as the Avenger. In other circumstances pilots had to rev-up their engines to red line with the brakes locked on, then release the brakes and hope the plane gained enough speed to become airborne, before running out of deck. Along with many young pilots, George H. W. Bush performed this seeming miracle on 58 missions during the war. Just to add some perspective, if the heavy torpedo bomber stalled on take-off, and crashed into the water, the 11,000-ton aircraft carrier steaming at full speed to launch aircraft, was likely to plow into any plane that ditched in the water ahead of the ship. Something for the youngest pilot in the navy to think about every time he pushed the throttle forward preparing for launch. The job of a pilot flying planes off of carriers in World War II was extremely hazardous. Possibly more dangerous, was returning to that tiny deck in the vastness of the ocean and landing a big plane on a moving ship. During the national emergency that followed Pearl Harbor, the navy was desperate for pilots, so the training was accelerated and often inadequate. I know this because my father was a navy chaplain in World War II. He told me about the enormous losses of pilot trainees, whose planes crashed on take-off or landing, long before they had an opportunity to fly off an actual carrier. So, even during his teen years, the story of George H. W. Bush is a compelling one. Long before he became an entrepreneur, a congressman, an ambassador, the CIA director, vice president, and president, the teenager who would rise to high office was making history. When I reflect back on my teen years, mostly cringe-worthy memories come to my mind. That George H. W. Bush possibly accomplished more in his late teen years than many Americans accomplished in a lifetime, should give us pause. I just wanted to set the record straight.