The Last Greatest President
Published: December 5th, 2018
By: Joe Angelino

Last Saturday’s early morning coffee routine was rudely interrupted by grief. I was sleepy-eyed and staggering toward the coffee pot, smart-phone in hand, noticing something on the locked screen. Was it a weather alert, a missed text message, possibly a missed call during the night? As my eyes focused on the words on the tiny screen, my wife said them just as my mind comprehended what was displayed – “George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, dead at 94.” It was like a punch to the gut that filled my eyes with tears.

It’s not like this wasn’t expected. The man was 94 years old and had been in and out of the hospital all year with various health issues since the passing of Barbara, his wife of 70-plus years. What made this man’s passing emotional to me was for years he was in my Chain of Command. During eight years of the Reagan administration, he was the Vice President. Immediately following, in 1989, he became the whole country’s President, but my Commander in Chief. It seemed like I knew him, even though I’d never met him.

In November of 1990, President Bush 41 sent me along with a half-million other Americans to the sands of Saudi Arabia to face off with the 4th largest army in the world, that of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. We did this readily with no reservations because we knew President Bush would never use US troops as political pawns or poker chips. If we were deploying someplace, it was vitally strategic and we were probably going to fight.

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Because the Marine Corps is as much a religious cult as it is an armed force we were all taught about our Commander in Chief’s personal history. The leadership assumption was we would better understand the orders if we knew the background of the man issuing them. In World War II, at age 18, he was a torpedo dive-bomber pilot – an aviator in the Navy – of the fabled Avenger airframe. Because he was the son of a US Senator, he easily could have skirted military duty, but he didn’t. He shunned his affluence and privilege, skipped college and went for a direct commission in the Navy reserve. Being a military reservist in 1943 was much different for Bush41 compared to Bush43 in the Viet Nam era Air Force reserves. When Bush the senior entered the service the situation was dire and the future of America was in doubt.

G.H.W. Bush flew combat missions from aircraft carriers in the Pacific; 58 carrier take-offs, but only 57 safe landings. On one mission he and his two-man crew were shot down near the Pacific island of Chichi-Jima. His aircraft was one of several Avengers shot down in that same flight, and by divine intervention, Lt(j.g.) Bush was the only escaping survivor. The others on that mission were either killed or captured. And some of those captured were murdered, butchered and eaten by the starving Japanese. These experiences before his 20th birthday shaped this man for the rest of his life. It was the same with of millions of others with similar encounters which we call the Greatest Generation. But God had special plans for this young man.

If ever a person was destined for prominence and significance, this would be the one. There was so much more to George Bush than being a decorated war veteran. Throughout his seven decades of public service, he held positions of; congressman, envoy to China, Ambassador to the United Nations, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Vice President, President. He was quoted as saying his most important positions held were those of husband, father, and grandfather. He also said he’d like to be remembered for his colorful, whimsical socks. A person wielding this much power and authority is seldom this humble.

Anyone age 35 or older should have some memory of President Bush 41 being in office. If you are lucky enough to have memories of this presidency, compare him to his impeached successor or our current POTUS to really appreciate his honorable leadership style. Even though he served only one term as POTUS, I predict history will be kind to his legacy. During his presidency, he orchestrated the end of the Cold War with the former Soviet Union. He signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act helping thousands of people sustain a quality of life and independence. The Clean Air Act had widespread enhancements during the Bush 41 administration that saved the Adirondacks from permanent acid rain damage. Lest we forget, he was also the father of a President of the United States.

Today is a national day of mourning for George H.W. Bush who was the last person elected president from the Greatest Generation. We will never see another president cast from a similar mold. Read my lips; George H.W. Bush was a great patriot and an underrated president. Our nation wishes you the traditional naval farewell; may your journey have fair winds and following seas.

Historical note: Credit is likewise owed to our current oldest living president, Jimmy Carter who is similarly a one-term president who is also age 94, and a World War II Navy veteran.