By Henry Sakaida

Back in 1982, I read a small newspaper account of then Vice President George Bush in World War II. He was shot down over the Bonin Islands, about 620 miles south of Tokyo. I was very curious to know the details and wrote to the VP. He sent me his response, which read: “In answer to your question, I was shot down off the Bonin Islands by AA fire on September 2, 1944. The name of the submarine that rescued me was the USS Finback. Hope this helps!”

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George Bush during Naval flight training

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Future President George Herbert Walker Bush during WWII (Photo Credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

According to the official US Navy report: “Lt.(jg) Bush was piloting the third plane over the target. Bush’s plane was hit in the engine shortly after the final push over at 8,000 feet. In spite of this hit which caused his engine to smoke and catch fire, Lt. (jg) Bush continued to dive, releasing his bombs on the radio station at 85.6-50.6 to score damaging hits. Ens. Moore, in the 4th plane likewise dropped his bombs on latter installations.”

“After releasing his bombs, Lt.(jg) Bush turned sharply to the east to clear the island of Chichi Jima, smoke and flames enveloping his engine and spreading aft as he did so, and his plane losing altitude. He advised the C.O. by radio that it was necessary to bail out. At a point approximately 9 miles bearing 045 degrees T from Minami Jima, Bush and one other person were seen to bail out from about 3,000 feet. Bush’s chute opened and he landed safely in the water, inflated his raft and paddled farther away from Chichi Jima. The chute of the other person (either Lt.(jg) White or J.L. Delaney, ARM2/c who bailed out did not open.”

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TBM Avenger torpedo plane in flight. The Avenger carried a crew of three

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Letter from then Vice-President George H.W. Bush to author Henry Sakaida (click to enlarge)

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Lt. (jg) Bush in flight gear preparing for a mission. Bush flew off the carrier USS San Jacinto as part of Torpedo Squadron 51 (VT-51)

George Bush had fallen victim to the 1st Anti-Aircraft Unit Arashiyama.

Through the help of my contact in Tokyo, I obtained a copy of the actual written report from this unit which detailed the downing of George Bush’s aircraft!

According to the Japanese log, at 0825, they “confirmed the downing of one enemy in the sea 80”10. Two men descended in parachutes and disappeared into the sea. 0857: One submarine surfaced at 250” 20’ proceeding north.”

The future 41st President of the United States was picked up by the USS Finback. His two crewmen were never recovered. During the 1988 presidential campaign against challenger Michael Dukakis, politics got very dirty, and rumors started to fly, saying that Bush had abandoned his two crewmen to save himself.

Hollywood writer Joe Hyams wrote the book, Flight of the Avenger: George Bush at War, in 1991 using the Japanese report I provided. Needless to say, President Bush was elated to have confirmation from the Japanese side, of the events of that fateful day!

George Bush was very lucky. The Japanese defenders, short of food, resorted to cannibalism of captured American airmen at the time! LtCol. Kikuji Ito was executed as a war criminal for personally beheading 2 American flyers shortly before Bush was shot down. LtGen Yoshio Tachibana, commander of Chichi Jima, was held responsible for all of the atrocities and executed in September 1947.

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Lt.(jg) George Bush in the cockpit of his TBM Avenger

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Actual photo of George H.W. Bush during his rescue by the USS Finback

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President George H.W. Bush

For More About George H.W. Bush During WWII Check out:

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush

Flight of the Avenger: George Bush at War

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  • Peter Kubicek says:

    George H.W. Bush was a hero during WWII and deserved to become President of the U.S.

    Too bad that his son George W. was a total ignoramus and by attacking Iraq caused more damage to this country than any of our previous presidents. Due his misguided war innocent Iraqis die practically every week. After every attack they ought unfurl a banner saying, “Thank you, George W. Bush!”

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