I was seven years old when I first heard the name of the 41st President of the United States. I was with my grandparents on the deck of Ray’s Mill Pond in Ray City, Ga. I group of men were talking about some wimpy man who Ronald Reagan picked for something that seemed important.
They were talking about George Herbert Walker Bush.
I wondered if they were right. Here is what I learned.
Six months after the United States entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan, Bush enlisted in the U.S. Navy. On June 9, 1943, just three days before his 19th birthday, he became one of the youngest aviators in the Navy.
During the War, Bush distinguished himself in battle and in training other naval aviators.
After graduating from college, he proved that success on the battlefield could be transformed into success in business. In 1951 and in 1953 co-founded the Zapata Petroleum, an oil company that drilled in Texas. By 1966, he was a millionaire.
That year, Bush was elected to a seat in Congress from the 7th District of Texas. He would win a second term before serving Presidents Nixon and Ford.
In 1976, Bush became the Director of Central Intelligence. The director of the CIA must make decisions that affect the lives of Americans and those who threaten our country. The position is not for the faint of heart.
Bush decided in the late 1970s that he was going to run for president in 1980. In 1979, he hit the campaign trail. However, no one could outshine the Gipper as he rolled through Super Tuesday and won the GOP nomination for president.
But, Ronald Reagan needed a solid running mate to attract the moderate wing of the GOP and independents. Reagan made the last-minute decision to select Bush as his vice-presidential nominee, placing him on the winning Reagan/Bush team
As vice president, Bush generally maintained the customary low profile of the office. He and Reagan were different in many ways. But, the dynamics of the two won the Reagan/Bush team a second term in 1984. By that time, he and Reagan had become closer and began to work together on their agenda.
As early as 1985, Bush had been planning a presidential run. He entered the Republican primaries in October 1987 and prevailed in the end. In a surprise move, Bush chose little-known U.S. Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana, who was favored by conservatives. Bush/Quayle would win in a landslide. Bush became the first serving vice president to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836.
He entered office at a period of change in the world brought upon by decades of American strength that brought down the Berlin Wall. President Bush served with honor and dignity during his term. But, three words he uttered during the Republican Convention (No new taxes), a nationwide recession, and facing a young, energetic, and brilliant politician in 1992 proved too much to overcome to be re-elected.
But, he was only temporarily defeated. In 2000, saw his first-born son, George Walker Bush, become the 43rd President. They would join John Adams and John Quincy Adams as the only Father/Son presidents in history.
Well, what is George H.W. Bush’s legacy?
We will not truly know the answer until many years have passed. However, he is remembered today as a Foreign Policy President with character, integrity, with a strong sense of public service. As president, he was not a skilled communicator like his predecessor. His deeds spoke for themselves. Bush was a pragmatic leader who oversaw the collapse of the Soviet Union and the aftermath. He also had the ability to gain broad support for his initiatives from diverse groups and world leaders. His Multi-national coalition unleashed overwhelming military force to defeat Iraq during the Gulf War.
He also "cemented" the tradition of presidents leaving behind letters of support for their successors on the Resolute Desk. While Reagan had been the first modern president to do so in 1989, Bush's move was significant in that his gesture of goodwill was made towards Clinton, the man to whom Bush had just lost the election.
Perhaps the best summation of the life of George H.W. Bush was said days ago by his best friend, James Baker, when he tearfully told the funeral audience “he had the courage of a warrior but the greater courage of a peacemaker.”
Over the years, I have found 41 to be many things. Being a wimp was not one of them.