"The flak was the heaviest I'd ever flown into. The Japanese were ready and waiting: their antiaircraft guns were set up to nail us as we pushed into our dives. By the time VT-51 was ready to go in, the sky was thick with angry black clouds of exploding antiaircraft fire."
"Don Melvin led the way, scoring hits on a radio tower. I followed, going into a thirty-five degree dive, an angle of attack that sounds shallow but in an Avenger felt as if you were headed straight down. The target map was strapped to my knee, and as I started into my dive, I'd already spotted the target area. Coming in, I was aware of black splotches of gunfire all around."
"Suddenly there was a jolt, as if a massive fist had crunched into the belly of the plane. Smoke poured into the cockpit, and I could see flames rippling across the crease of the wing, edging towards the fuel tanks. I stayed with the dive, homed in on the target, unloaded our four 500-pound bombs, and pulled away, heading for the sea. Once over water, I leveled off and told Delaney and White to bail out, turning the plane to starboard to take the slipstream off the door near Delaney's station."--George H.W. Bush, from his autobiography
"Mr. Bush was just 20 years old when his TBM Avenger torpedo-bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire on Sept. 2, 1944, during a bombing run over Chichi Jima, an island 600 miles south of Japan, just north of the better-known Iwo Jima.
The young pilot stayed on course long enough to release those bombs on an enemy radio transmitter before bailing out above the Pacific, his aircraft now a fireball, his two crewmen dead.
Mr. Bush never forgot his men, the black smoke and the moment he himself sliced into the ocean with a damaged parachute. He was rescued by a U.S. Navy submarine after three hours in the water and was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
But these events — the visceral moments of a young pilot — have not been lost. Mr Bush's experiences have been retold in both a new book and an upcoming CNN documentary.
"Flyboys," by James Bradley, will be published Tuesday, chronicling the stories of nine airmen shot down over Chichi Jima, eight of whom died as prisoners of war. Some were beheaded, according to recently declassified documents with "facts so horrible" they were hidden from the men's families.
But the ninth airman — Mr. Bush — survived.
"The Flyboy who got away became president of the United States," Mr. Bradley wrote in his account.
To this day, that president can't forget his lost crew mates, gunner Ted White and radio man John Delaney.
"It still plagues me if I gave those guys enough time to get out," Mr. Bush told the author. "I think about those guys all the time."
Just over a year ago, Mr. Bush returned to Chichi Jima, meeting veterans from both sides of the war — including one Japanese soldier who saw Mr. Bush's plane fall into the sea five decades earlier...
Alone in a life raft, Mr. Bush paddled out to the waters that had claimed both his plane and his buddies.".......
|Babe Ruth and the Yalie|
|The Three Amigos|
|E with Our Man in Las Vegas|
H. is for Honor
UPDATE: More from our Archives:
On that sunny morning of September, Bush woke aboard San Jacinto prepared to fly one of the 58 attack missions he would fly during the war. However, this particular mission would end a little differently than his other 57. The target was a Japanese radio station on ChiChi Jima, located about 600 miles southwest of Japan in the Bonin Islands. For a time, the enemy on that tiny island had been intercepting U.S. military radio transmissions and warning Japan and occupied enemy islands of impending American air strikes. It had to be destroyed.
Before 0900, Bush and two aircrewmen --his regular radioman, Radioman Second Class John Delaney, and substitute gunner Lieutenant Junior Grade William White-- strapped themselves inside an Avenger and catapulted off San Jacinto. Three other bomb-laden VT-51 aircraft, as well as a number of VF-51's F6F Hellcats, joined the mission.
"ChiChi was a real feisty place to fly into," Stanley Butchart, a former VT-51 pilot and friend of Bush, agreed. "As I remember, it had gun emplacements hidden in the mountain areas. In order to get down to the radio facility, you had to fly past the AA batteries, which was risky business." As expected, projectiles belched from the enemy's AA batteries as soon as Bush and his squadron mates were over the island. Tiny black puffs of smoke thickened around his plane as he approached the target and dove steeply -- so steeply that Bush felt like he was standing on his head. But before he reached the radio facility the plane was hit.
Lt. Bush, who felt the plane "lift" from the hit, continued his dive toward the target and dropped his payload. The four 500-pound bombs exploded, causing damaging hits. For his courage and disregard for his own safety in pressing home his attack, he was later awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross.
Bush maneuvered the Avenger over the ocean with the hope it would make the journey back to San Jacinto. But the plane began to blaze and clouds of smoke soon enveloped the cockpit. Choking and gasping for air, Bush and one of his aircrewmen wriggled out of the plane and leaped from about 1,500 feet. His other crewman, dead or seriously injured from the blast, went down with the Avenger. Bush parachuted safely into the water, dangerously close to the shore. Unfortunately, the aircrewman fell helplessly to his death because his parachute failed to open properly.
Vice-President Bush said that he chose to finish the bombing run rather than bail out early because as a Naval Aviator, he was disciplined to do that. "We were trained to complete our runs no matter what the obstacle," he remarked.
Once in the water, Bush unleashed his inflatable yellow lifeboat, crawled in, and paddled quickly out to sea. The Japanese sent out a boat to capture him. Luckily, Lieutenant Doug West, a fellow VT-51 Avenger pilot, strafed the boat. "He stopped it," said Bush. [he was blessed; other captured pilots were brutally tortured to death--you know, like we did to KSM--ed.]
Circling fighter planes transmitted Bush's plight and position to the U.S. submarine Finback (SS-230), patrolling 15 to 20 miles from the island. "This was 1944 and there were very few enemy targets left," said retired Capt. Robert R.Williams Jr., 73, who was Finback's commanding officer then. "So, the main reason for our being on patrol was to act as lifeguard and pick up aviators."
According to Lieutenant Commander Dean Spratlin, Finback's executive officer at the time, the submarine had an area of 200 to 300 square miles to cover, which included Iwo Jima, ChiChi Jima and HaHa Jima in the Bonin Islands. A few hours after transmitting Bush's position, Williams, then a commander, sighted him on the periscope about seven miles away from ChiChi. He ordered the submarine to the surface.
"I saw this thing coming out of the water and I said to myself, 'Jeez, I hope it's one of ours,'" Bush remarked. Spratlin, who is now in the real estate business in Atlanta, Ga., said he and Williams weren't worried about surfacing in daylight so close to an enemy island because they had several U.S. fighters flying cover.
"We had a big sub (312 feet long), so we rigged out the bowplanes which gave us a platform where we could step down and pull him aboard," added Spratlin. While several of Finback's crewmen were helping Bush aboard, Ensign Bill Edwards, the sub's first lieutenant and photographic officer, filmed the rescue. The 8mm film later was sent to Bush while he was a congressman from Texas and was shown recently as part of a biographical sketch during the Republican National Convention.
Bush was taken inside Finback and the sub submerged. "Once he was pulled aboard, he as taken to the wardroom," said Thomas R. Keene, a TBF Avenger pilot from USS Franklin, who was shot down the day before off Iwo Jima along with his two enlisted aircrewmen. "It must have seemed like a dream to him. One minute he was all alone on the ocean, and the next he was on board a submarine being served food in a red-lighted compartment that had music playing on a record player."
"I thought being rescued by the submarine was the end of my problem,"Bush said. "I didn't realize that I would have to spend the duration of the sub's 30 remaining days on board." The following day, Finback retrieved Lieutenant Junior Grade James Beckman, a fighter pilot on USS Enterprise who was shot down over HaHa Jima. "We put Bush and the other four men to work as lookouts," Spratlin said. "Four hours on, eight hours off.''
As lookouts, they helped make sure that enemy planes and submarines didn't sneak up on Finback during daylight or at night. The submarine did much of its patrolling on the surface in the daytime and always at night because that was when Finback recharged its batteries. "Bush and the other aviators really got into the submarine experience," Spratlin remarked. "Every time an enemy plane would force us down, they'd curse it just like we did."
Bush said that the most beautiful time for standing watch was between 2400 and 0400. "I'll never forget the beauty of the Pacific -- the flying fish, the stark wonder of the sea, the waves breaking across the bow," he remarked. The 30 days aboard Finback weren't all beautiful, however. Some of the more dramatic moments included being depth charged and bombed by enemy ships and planes.
"I thought I was scared at times flying into combat, but in a submarine you couldn't do anything, except sit there," he said. ''The submariners were saying that it must be scary to be shot at by antiaircraft fire and I was saying to myself, 'Listen brother, it is not really as bad as what you go through. The tension, adrenaline and the fear factor were about the same (getting shot at by antiaircraft fire as opposed to being depthcharged). When we were getting depth charged, the submariners did not seem overly concerned, but the other pilots and I didn't like it a bit. There was a certain helpless feeling when the depth charges went off that I didn't experience when flying my plane against AA.''
"I can't say anything but good things about him," remarked Jack Guy, who was one of Bush's closest friends in VT-51. "In WW II we all felt we could depend on George to do his job. We never had to say, 'Where's my wingman?' because he was always there."