As a 10-year-old youth who spent his spare time watching B&W war films, building Testors scale models, and plinking with his .22 at targets that approximated the most heinous enemies you could imagine, I had a chance to attend the recommissioning of the battleship USS Iowa (BB-61) on a warm spring day in Pascagoula.
Visiting the immense haze gray super dreadnought, bristling with 16-inch guns and Tomahawk cruise missiles, I made extra effort to crawl, slide into, and otherwise creep around parts of the vessel that was…off limits…unless you were part of the crew. As I was a regular visitor to the USS Alabama and did the same there, I feel I had been training for that very moment for years already.
This set me up for a collision course– literally– with a group who were getting a private, though more sanctioned, tour: Vice President George H.W. Bush.
It was one of the first times I had ever met a President (or Vice) and he spoke very briefly to me before his party resumed their endorsed inspection and I was promptly ushered back to more civilian-approved areas.
Anyway, that’s my story of how I almost got kicked off a battleship but met a Bush.
Vale, Mr. President.
Of note, he was a former WWII veteran himself, having joined on his 18th birthday. An Avenger pilot, the 20-year-old was shot down on a raid over Chichijima, about 150 miles north of Iwo Jima. Targeting an important radio station, Bush’s aircraft was hit by ground fire and, his engine aflame, headed out to sea back towards the U.S. fleet, desperate to reach his carrier again. Ditching his crippled aircraft, Bush was picked up by a U.S. submarine, the USS Finback, and eventually returned to his squadron.
Others were not so lucky. His two crewmen in the TBF were killed while aviators who were shot down and reached the isolated island were later found to have been killed and partially eaten on the order of Japanese officers.
In a 2007 interview with the U.S. Naval Institute, Bush said there is “nothing heroic” about getting shot down and that he still thinks of the loss of his two crewmen “to this very day.”