George H.W. Bush Leaves a Sorrow That Has Nothing to Do With Politics

As a history teacher, people often ask me for my list of who I think the best Presidents were.  My answers are pretty consistent with most people who study Presidents: Washington, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.  However, if the question is phrased a little differently, “Who are your favorite Presidents?”, there are a few more names, including George H.W. Bush.  Like so many, my fondness for him has little to do with politics, but admiration for a true gentlemen who loved and served his country like few others. All the while with a class and dignity we all so sorely miss.

Here are some reasons the President Bush 41 will always be one of my favorites:

George and Barbara:
     George Bush met Barbara Pierce in 1941 when he was 17 and she was 16 at a dance while on Christmas break from their boarding schools just days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  They lived a distance from each other, but communicated through letters, and would not officially go out on a date until spring break.  They were each other’s first kisses.  The future President would write to his mother in 1942 to let her know how he felt about Barbara:

“I kissed Barbara and am glad of it. I don’t believe she will ever regret it or resent it, and I certainly am not ashamed of it… If Barbara sort of forgets me, which is not unlikely, as I have no chance to see her at all, I don’t believe she will ever dislike me more for having kissed her. She knows how I felt towards her and she must have shared some of the same feeling or she would not have allowed me to kiss her. I have never kissed another girl.”

When George H.W. Bush flew in World War Two he would name his planes: “Barbara I”, “Barbara II”, and “Barbara III”.    She was willing to move with him 29 times to support his career choices and service to his country.   When Mrs. Bush passed this April, the two had been married 73 years, the longest of any “first couple” in history.   They worshiped and adored each other through their last days.  When we watched the anguish of President Bush at the funeral service for his beloved wife, the entire nation wanted to wrap our arms around him. Our nation loved their love.

Kate Bennett covered the First Lady for C.N.N..  Her tweet shortly after President Bush passed last night sums it up best:

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George Herbert Walker Bush the war hero:
     On his 18th birthday in June of 1942, George Bush was waiting for his local Navy recruiter when he arrived for work that day.  Mr. Bush would become the youngest American Naval Pilot of World War Two.  He flew 58 combat missions during the war, including being shot down in September of 1944.  He was a part of a group of nine pilots struck by the Japanese, with him being the only one to survive.  The others were beheaded, and several were  eaten. He survived by hanging onto floating debris for four hours in the Pacific Ocean before he was rescued. When found, he was hallucinating, vomiting, and bleeding from a head wound.  For his bravery, he was awarded The Distinguished Flying Cross Award.  Like so many of the “greatest generation”, he was humble about his service and didn’t talk about it much.  When he did, he always deflected credit and honor to others.

He played and loved our national pastime:

When he returned home from World War Two, George Bush enrolled at Yale University, and became the first baseman and Captain of the baseball team.  He was not great, put pretty good.  When Babe Ruth visited Yale to present an autographed copy of his auto-biography to the Yale Library, he presented it on the field to George Bush.

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Photo Credit: U.S.A. Today

No matter which job he took, or where in the world it led him, Mr. Bush always maintained his love for baseball.  When he left the Presidency, he and Barbara were regulars at Houston Astros games, even when the team wasn’t very good.  When I got a chance to visit his Presidential Library in College Station, Texas a few years ago, my favorite part was sitting at his desk and seeing his old baseball glove he kept in the upper right hand drawer.  Legend has it that when something was weighing heavily on his mind, the President would put on his ball glove and repeatedly smack it’s pocket with his opposite fist, just like every little leaguer across America.

He put country over party:
As a Congressman, Senator, Ambassador, C.I.A. Director, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Vice President, President, and Post President George H.W. Bush’s first loyalty was always doing what was best for his country and the American people.  He was the one, who as head of the Republican Party in 1974, who convinced Richard Nixon that he should resign.  He broke rank with fellow Republicans when he thought it was the right thing to do for America, and always treated his political opponents as worthy patriots deserving of respect.

There is not better example of this than the famous letter he left in the oval office drawer for President Bill Clinton. In 1993, George H.W. Bush had to leave the Presidency after one term. He lost a bitterly fought election to Clinton.  He had to feel some level of bitterness and rejection from the country he had given his entire life to.  Yet, George H.W. Bush was the epitome of class.

“Your success is now our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

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Photo Credit: CNN

He was one of the greatest post Presidents of all time:
For the past 25 years, George H.W. Bush has had a title that few would understand, “Ex-President.”  It has been a largely undefined and underutilized role until recently.  Former President Bush has used this time to serve his country and the world.  In 2004, he teamed up with former President Bill Clinton to form the “Bush-Clinton Fund” for relief and aid for Indonesia and other nations devastated by one of the deadliest tsunamis in history.  They raised over a billion dollars!  They teamed up again to help victims of hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters several times.

President Bush also understood the inspiration he could give to other senior citizens by living a vigorous and full life into his ninth decade.  He skydived on his 75th, 80th, 85, and 90th birthdays.  He told reporters after the jump on his 85th birthday:
“Just because you’re an old guy, you don’t have to sit around drooling in the corner. Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life.”

That was the man, always aware of the power of what his example meant to others.

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Photo Credit: ABC

C.A.V.U.
    One of the most endearing qualities about George H.W. Bush was his hopeful attitude, always focused on a positive and bright future full of possibility and greatness.  Last night, it was revealed that a code word existed amongst Bush’s closest family and friends that they agreed to use in the event of his death. That word was a Naval acronym, “C.A.V.U.”

He explained it best in a letter he wrote late in life to his five children when he was about to send young Americans into combat in the Persian Gulf.
It read:

“I had a little plaque made. It says CAVU. C-A-V-U. CAVU was the kind of weather we Navy pilots wanted when were to fly off our carrier in the Pacific. We had little navigational instrumentation so we wanted to CAVU, ceiling and visibility unlimited. And because of the five of you whose hugs I can still feel, whose own lives made me so proud, I can confidently tell my guardian angel that my life is CAVU and it will be that way until I die. All because of you.”

He had a plaque made for his office.  Four letters that explain this great patriot’s outlook on life, and why this country will have a George Bush sized hole in its heart for a long time.
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Photo Credit: George H.W. Bush Presidential Museum and Library.

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