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9 Things You Should Know About George H. W. Bush (1924–2018)

President George H. W. Bush died on Friday at the age of 94. Prior to his death he had been the longest-lived president in American history. Here are nine things you should know about America’s 41st president:

1. George Herbert Walker Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, in 1924, to Prescott Sheldon Bush and Dorothy Bush. His parents named him after his maternal grandfather, George Herbert Walker, who was named after the famous Anglican priest and poet George Herbert. GHW followed his father’s path by attending Yale, serving in the military during wartime, running a business, and seeking political office (Prescott served 10 years as a U.S. senator from Connecticut).

2. George H. W. Bush was a 17-year-old student at Phillips Academy, a private high school in Andover, Massachusetts, when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Bush decided he wanted to be a pilot and even briefly considered enlisting in the Royal Air Force in Canada because, as he would later recall, you “could get through much faster.” When the U.S. Navy dropped the requirement that pilots had to have two years of college, Bush enlisted on his 18th birthday and eventually became an officer in the Naval Reserve and a naval aviator. At age 18, he began flying torpedo bombers based on aircraft carriers in the combat zones of the Pacific.

3. Two years after joining the Navy, Bush was sent on a bombing raid over a small island 700 miles south of Tokyo. Bush’s plane was among the several shot down after the raid, and he was among only nine airmen to escape from their planes. Bush crashed further from the island than the other crews and was rescued by a U.S. submarine. The Japanese captured, tortured, and executed the other eight men. Four of the captured Americans were butchered by the island’s surgeons for a cannibal’s feast. Their livers and meat from their thighs were eaten by senior Japanese officers, because it was considered a “delicacy” and “good medicine for the stomach.” Bush said that while on the submarine he asked himself why he had survived. “Why had I been spared, and what did God have in store for me?” he wondered. “In my own view there’s got to be some kind of destiny, and I was being spared for something on Earth.”

4. In September 1945, one month after the surrender of Japan, Bush left the Navy and enrolled at Yale. He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics in two and a half years and then moved his family to West Texas to begin a career in the oil business. During the 1950s Bush started two oil companies. Although he was already from a wealthy family, Bush became a millionaire through his own business ventures. He became so successful that the business titan Ross Perot asked Bush to run Perot’s oil business in Houston. Bush declined, choosing instead to run for political office.

5. By 1964, Bush had produced two successful businesses and, with his wife, Barbara, created six children: George W. (b. 1946), Robin (1949–1953), Jeb (b. 1953), Neil (b. 1955), Marvin (b. 1956), and Doro (b. 1959). He decided it was time to continue in his father’s footsteps by running for the U.S. Senate in Texas. Bush lost that race, but was elected in 1966 to represent the Houston area in the U.S. House of Representatives. He served two terms in the House before running—and again losing—a Senate race in 1970.

6. After losing his second Senate race, Bush was considered for several positions in the Nixon administration, including being head of NASA, running the Small Business Administration, or serving as special assistant to the president. During an interview with Nixon, Bush talked the president into appointing him as ambassador to the United Nations. He served two years in that position before being assigned chairman of the Republican National Committee. When Gerald Ford became president, he appointed Bush to head the U.S. Liaison Office in China (at the time, the United States did not have an ambassador to China) and later to take over the CIA as Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).

7. Bush ran for president in the 1980 Republican Party presidential primaries. He gained nearly 24 percent of the vote but dropped out after it became clear that he was losing to former California governor Ronald Reagan. When it came time to select a vice president at the GOP convention, Reagan’s first choice was former president Gerald Ford. Reagan initially did not find Bush suitable because of their differences on policy (for example, Bush favored an Equal Rights Amendment, which Reagan opposed, and Reagan favored a pro-life constitutional amendment, which Bush opposed). After Bush agreed to fully support both Reagan and the GOP platform, Bush was invited to join the GOP ticket. During their eight years in the White House, Bush and Reagan became close friends as many of their political differences faded.

8. Bush succeeded Reagan by winning the 1988 presidential election. Although his presidency included a number of important domestic changes—such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990—many of his most significant achievements came in the area of foreign affairs. Bush sent troops into Panama to arrest the Panamanian leader and narco-trafficker Manuel Noriega and to the Persian Gulf as part of multinational mission to expel the Iraqi Army from its unlawful occupation of Kuwait. He also played an essential role in post-Cold War events, such as the reunification of Germany. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after hearing the news of Bush’s death, she “probably couldn’t be standing here” if Bush had not played his pivotal role.

9. As a lifelong Episcopalian, Bush was hesitant to talk openly about his Christian faith. Asked whether he had been “born again,” he said, “If by ‘born again’ one is asking, ‘Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?’ then I could answer a clear-cut ‘Yes.’ No hesitancy, no awkwardness.” If the question, though, were whether there had been “one single moment, above any others, in which your life has been instantly changed then I can’t say that this has happened, since there have been many moments.”

Other posts in this series:

Religious Freedom Restoration Act • Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre • Out-of-Wedlock Births • Bethel Church Movement • Christian Hymns • Hurricanes • Infertility • The STD Crisis • Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) • Russian President Vladimir Putin • Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh • MS-13 • Wicca and Modern Witchcraft • Jerusalem • Christianity in Korea • Creation of Modern Israel • David Koresh and the Branch Davidians • Rajneeshees • Football • The Opioid Epidemic (Part II) • The Unification Church • Billy Graham • Frederick Douglass • Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 • Winter Olympics • The ‘Mississippi Burning’ Murders •  Events and Discoveries in 2017 • Christmas Traditions • Sexual Misconduct • Lutheranism • Jewish High Holy Days • Nation of Islam • Slave Trade • Solar Eclipses • Alcohol Abuse in America • History of the Homeschooling Movement • Eugenics • North Korea • Ramadan • Black Hebrew Israelites • Neil Gorsuch and Supreme Court Confirmations • International Women’s Day • Health Effects of Marijuana • J. R. R. Tolkien • Aleppo and the Syrian Crisis • Fidel Castro • C.S. Lewis • ESV Bible • Alzheimer’s Disease •  Mother Teresa • The Opioid Epidemic • The Olympic Games • Physician-Assisted Suicide • Nuclear Weapons • China’s Cultural Revolution • Jehovah’s Witnesses • Harriet Tubman • Autism • Seventh-day Adventism • Justice Antonin Scalia (1936–2016) • Female Genital Mutilation • Orphans • Pastors • Global Persecution of Christians (2015 Edition) • Global Hunger • National Hispanic Heritage Month • Pope Francis • Refugees in America • Confederate Flag Controversy • Elisabeth Elliot • Animal Fighting • Mental Health • Prayer in the Bible • Same-sex Marriage • Genocide • Church Architecture • Auschwitz and Nazi Extermination Camps • Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • Halloween and Reformation Day • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues • Islamic State

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