George Bush had a close encounter of the personal kind and lived to talk about it. Intensely patriotic, he joined the Navy in World War II at 18, and became that service’s youngest bomber pilot. In 1944, he was shot down near the island of Chichi Jima and his two crewmen were killed. In his life raft, he was being pulled by the current toward the Japanese island, where he would certainly be killed.
It seemed that life would end for Bush when suddenly – rising out of the Pacific Ocean – came a United States submarine. The crew rescued the young Navy pilot. Grateful at being granted this second chance, “Poppy” Bush vowed he would make something of himself.
Born on June 12, 1924, George Herbert Walker Bush was the son of a wealthy banker and attended the best of schools. Following the war, he majored in economics at Yale University and was captain of its baseball team.
After graduation, he headed West to make his fortune in the Texas oil fields.
He did just that, becoming a millionaire within the decade. Always interested in politics, Bush began taking part in local Republican politics in Houston, Texas. In 1966, he was elected to Congress where he supported the 1968 Civil Rights Bill, even though it was unpopular back home.
In 1971, President Richard Nixon named him United Nations ambassador and in 1972, he became chairman of the Republican National Committee. He defended Nixon over his involvement in the Watergate Scandal, when the President was accused of obstruction of justice. Finally, on August 7, 1974, Bush urged Nixon to step down. The President resigned the next day. That same year, President Gerald Ford named Bush the first U. S. representative to China since the Communists seized power in 1949. In 1975, Bush became director of the Central Intelligence Agency, where he restored morale and efficiency after years of political infighting.
Resigning in 1976, Bush sought the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, but lost to Ronald Reagan. But then, Reagan picked Bush to be the vice-presidential candidate. That team won a huge victory in 1980 and was reelected by an even larger landslide in 1984.
Receiving Reagan’s blessing, Bush was nominated for President in 1988. Attacking his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, as being soft on crime and defense, and repeating his convention pledge of “Read my lips: No new taxes!,” he won a sizable victory in November.
Benefiting from the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bush, the nation’s 41st President, acted decisively abroad. He reached agreements with the Soviet Union to reduce arms, intervened militarily in Panama in 1989, and deposed strongman Manuel Noriega. In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Bush formed a unique alliance with nations around the world and dispatched more than 400,000 American troops to the Persian Gulf to defend Saudi Arabia. Iraq refused to withdraw, and on January 16, 1991, a massive Allied air assault was begun against Iraq and its forces in Kuwait. On February 24, the Allies launched a lightning-like attack and the Iraqis surrendered four days later.
Feeling at home in foreign policy, Bush shied away from the domestic areas, which became his undoing. Facing a mounting deficit spending crisis, Bush went back on his pledge of “no new taxes.” The American people never forgave him.
He won renomination in 1992, but ran what many consider one of the worst campaigns in the nation’s history against Democratic contender Bill Clinton, governor of Arkansas, and billionaire independent H. Ross Perot.