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Guest view: In memory of George H.W. Bush, and his Greatest Generation

By Don Handy
Contributing writer
updated: 12/5/2018 11:55 AM

George Herbert Walker Bush, who died last Friday at age 94, was a congressman, an ambassador, chairman of the Republican National Committee, director of the CIA, Vice President and President.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 a military attack by the Japanese on our U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii occurred, which surprised and angered the nation. More than 2,300 Americans were killed in that savage attack.

A rush to join the military began the next day. Among them was a high school senior, named George Herbert Walker Bush. He was declined for military service as he was only 17.

Many young men from Perry County did join. The attack led to the United States' entry into World War II, during which Perry County lost 46 men.

On June 12, 1942, Bush turned 18 and immediately joined the Navy. As a pilot two years later in 1944, Bush was slated as a part of a strike over Chichi Jima, a Japanese island. The island was a stronghold for communications and supplies for the Japanese, and it was heavily guarded.

Bush's precise target was a radio tower. At 7 a.m. Bush took off through clear skies. Just over an hour later his plane was hit. He is quoted to have said, "My God! This thing is going to blow up!"

Choking on the smoke, Bush continued to steer the plane, dropping bombs and hitting the radio tower.

He parachuted out of the plane, and floated in the water for hours before finally being rescued by a U.S. submarine. Bush later would win the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism under fire.

George H.W. Bush, like many others of his generation, was a man of honor. He served his country in war and in peace. He put the country first when he raised taxes to deal with a rapidly increasing federal debt that would have caused severe economic problems for the country. He made this decision in the face of his own party's opposition and severe criticism. This decision may have cost him getting re-elected to a second term as President.

This is a great reminder of how some ... many ... of our past presidents and other leaders paid their dues in dealing with very critical situations. Some of them, like Bush, dealt with life and death situations for untold numbers of people nationally and worldwide.

Many young men from Perry County who fought in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam Conflict, have many stories to tell. Let's not forget those who served our county -- yesterday and today.

• Don Handy of Du Quoin is a World War II historian. He can be reached at