In September, I was in Kennebunkport, Maine. So was the 41st president of the United States, George, H. W. Bush. The annual meeting of his Thousand Points of Light Foundation, on which he serves as honorary chairman, was taking place. The frail 94-year-old former president was there to heal from illnesses, and the passing of his wife, Barbara.
As a 20-year-old Navy pilot, George Bush was shot down during bombing raids on the island of Chichi Jima in September 1944. Nine airmen ditched their planes and escaped before crashing into the Pacific 700 miles south of Tokyo. Bush was the only one to evade capture. The eight other pilots were tortured, and beheaded by Japanese. A Navy submarine picked up Lt. Bush. He recalled asking himself why he had been spared. "What did God have in store for me…?"
He was elected to Congress from Texas, became U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and served as Director of Central Intelligence, before becoming VP under Reagan, prior to his own presidency.
I met then Vice President George Bush in Washington in the early '80s while working on Capitol Hill and attending assemblies at the White House, during the Reagan Administration. In 1982 he invited me to a meeting in the Roosevelt Room to participate in the planning for the 1983 G7 Summit to take place in Williamsburg, Va.
Staff seated me at the corner of the conference table, near the fireplace and the painting of Teddy Roosevelt, the Roughrider. Vice President Bush sat at the head with the right cuff of his shirt nearly touching my hand. Eyeball to eyeball with the Vice President of the United States. He was genuinely affable, caring, easy to speak with, and he listened intently to all.
My charge was to help plan and execute the care and feeding of 5,000 members of the world press descending on the G7 Summit. It was a logistical challenge with a hard deadline.
Upon return to my office, my secretary said Vice President Bush was on the phone for me. I said, you mean his secretary. She said, no, it’s him!
Hello Mr. Vice President, he responded: "It's George, Jerry, call me George." I returned with yes sir Mr. Vice President. He had additional issues to discuss.
At the Bush family coastal compound in Kennebunkport last September, I saw the Stars and Stripes wafting in the sea air atop the mainstay of a maritime flagpole, indicating the president was in residence. Dimples of bright white clouds clouded in the late summer sky pushing out over the ocean seeming to kiss the Atlantic at the horizon, then fall away. The mid-morning sun cast luminous diamonds across the passive sea as trifling waves sprayed the outcropping of the rocky quay near the house.
Weighty with nautical dew, flowers were at their zenith, nudged by unseasonably hot weather encroaching on 90. They abounded with rainbows of color. All this pure, natural beauty for President Bush to relish, with the extraordinary allure of the world he so helped to shape. One of his adages is inscribed on a stone in the yard, near the shoreline with “CAVU,” an aeronautical phrase meaning clear and visibility unlimited.
George Bush devoted his life in service to our country. He was the last combat experienced president, statesman, indeed a gentle-man. Be at peace Mr. President. Soar through the heavens with clear and unlimited visibility, and touch the hand of God. George was there, at the house, just over the slight inlet from me. I stood motionless, and felt that solemn, notable affinity for George once again, while gently calling out his name.