George H. W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, passed away at 10:10 p.m. on November 30. President Bush took his last breath surrounded by his friends and family, including his son Neil Bush, James Baker, the former Secretary of State and a lifelong friend of the President, Jean Becker, his former Chief of Staff, and the Rev. Dr. Russell Jones Jr., rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, according to the New York Times.
George Herbert Walker Bush was born in Milton, Mass. on June 12, 1924. He was an outstanding student and known as a leader at Phillips Academy in Andover. On his 18th birthday and just seven months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Bush enlisted in the armed forces. He was one of the youngest naval pilots in World War II and flew over 58 combat missions. After flying as a torpedo bomber pilot in 1944, Bush was shot down over Chichi Jima, a Japanese island. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in action.
After leaving the military in 1945, he married the love of his life, Barbara Pierce. They had six children together — George, Robin, who died as a child, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy. Like his father, Bush had an interest in public service. He served two terms as a representative from the Texas 7th district. Bush quickly rose to several prominent positions during important moments in the Cold War including Ambassador to the United Nations, Chief Liaison to the People’s Republic of China, and Director of the CIA. The name George Herbert Walker Bush entered the mainstream of American politics and remained for almost 40 years, with his run for President in 1980 bringing him into the forefront of the political arena. Although Bush lost the nomination to Reagan, he was selected to be Reagan’s running mate. After eight years as Vice President, Bush soundly defeated his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, in the 1988 presidential election.
President Bush is more well-known for his international achievements, specifically the Gulf War. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1980, Bush used his diplomatic skills to gather a coalition of Arab and non-Arab countries to fight. On Feb. 24, 1991, the United States and the coalition stormed Kuwait; 100 hours later the war was over, with a decisive American victory. Many argue about whether President Bush should have pushed for an invasion of Baghdad to get rid of Saddam Hussein, however, “it would have taken us way beyond the imprimatur of international law,” Bush said. “Assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerrilla war.” His son George W. Bush would instead start this war years later.
In addition to the Gulf War, President Bush oversaw the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Bush was never clearer about his statesmanship than after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. After being pushed by his advisors to go to Berlin and celebrate the end of communism, Bush responded emphatically that he would not do so. Politically it could have been a huge boost for Bush’s popularity if the world saw an American president in Berlin on top of the fallen wall. However, Bush understood the precarious state of the Soviet Union and worried that a visit to Berlin would anger Mikhail Gorbachev, which would in turn, backtrack the progress both countries had made. That moment showed what kind of leader Bush was: One who displayed true leadership by putting national interest before personal interest.
Bush had many highs as President, however, he had his share of lows. Many HIV/AIDS activists in the early 1990s thought that Bush’s “kinder, gentler” America left them out. Dr. Mervyn Silverman, the former president of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, told NPR in 1991 that Bush had only given one speech about AIDS. A disease, he commented, that “[had] taken the lives of over 120,000 people and caused disease in close to 200,000. Although many AIDS activists thought that Bush was indifferent to the AIDS epidemic, NPR reported that Bush did sign two pieces of legislation that helped people with AIDS — “the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protected people with HIV and AIDS from discrimination, and the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, which provided funding for AIDS treatment.”
Bush’s personality did not wane in his last days. His longtime friend and former Secretary of State James Baker came to check up on him the day of his death. Despite knowing that his hours were numbered, President Bush still maintained his wit.
When Secretary Baker walked into the room, Bush’s face immediately lit up and he asked, “Where are we going Bake?” as if the President was ready to share more moments with his dear friend after over fifty years of friendship. Baker answered, “We are going to heaven.” The President responded, “That’s where I want to go.”