George Bush Presidential Library and Museum
1000 George Bush Drive W
+1 (979) 691-4000
Monday – Saturday 09:30 – 17:00
Sunday 12:00 – 17:00
Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day
|53229/X-2||Grumman TBM-3 Avenger|
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Bush decided to join the US. Navy, so after graduating from Phillips Academy in 1942, he became a naval aviator at the age of 18. After completing the 10-month course, he was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Naval Reserve at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi on June 9, 1943, just three days before his 19th birthday, which made him the youngest naval aviator to that date.
He was assigned to Torpedo Squadron (VT-51) as the photographic officer in September 1943. The following year, his squadron was based on the USS San Jacinto as a member of Air Group 51, where his lanky physique earned him the nickname “Skin”. During this time, the task force was victorious in one of the largest air battles of World War II: the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
After Bush’s promotion to Lieutenant (junior grade) on August 1, 1944, the San Jacinto commenced operations against the Japanese in the Bonin Islands. Bush piloted one of four Grumman TBM Avenger aircraft from VT-51 that attacked the Japanese installations on Chichijima. His crew for the mission, which occurred on September 2, 1944, included Radioman Second Class John Delaney and Lieutenant Junior Grade William White. During their attack, the Avengers encountered intense anti-aircraft fire; Bush’s aircraft was hit by flak and his engine caught on fire. Despite his plane being on fire, Bush completed his attack and released bombs over his target, scoring several damaging hits. With his engine ablaze, Bush flew several miles from the island, where he and one other crew member on the TBM Avenger bailed out of the aircraft; the other man’s parachute did not open. Bush waited for four hours in an inflated raft, while several fighters circled protectively overhead until he was rescued by the lifeguard submarine USS Finback. For the next month he remained on the Finback, and participated in the rescue of other pilots. Several of those shot down during the attack were executed and eaten by their captors.
Bush subsequently returned to San Jacinto in November 1944 and participated in operations in the Philippines until his squadron was replaced and sent home to the United States. Through 1944, he flew 58 combat missions for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to San Jacinto.
Because of his valuable combat experience, Bush was reassigned to Norfolk Navy Base and put in a training wing for new torpedo pilots. He was later assigned as a naval aviator in a new torpedo squadron, VT-153, based at Naval Air Station Grosse Ile, Michigan. Upon the Japanese surrender in 1945, Bush was honorably discharged in September of that year.