Home Flashback Photos Lieutenant George Bush Gets Shot Down

Lieutenant George Bush Gets Shot Down

He was lucky. Others weren't.


As a 20-year-old bomber pilot in World War II, Lieutenant George Bush always thought someone else would get hit by enemy fire.

He was wrong.

George Bush rescued.

Lieutenant George Bush rescued.

Bush was a 17-year-old student at Philips Academy in Andover, Mass., when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He decided to enlist in the Navy. And so he did, six months after graduation, on his 18th birthday.

On Sept. 2, 1944, Lt. Jg. George Bush was a torpedo bomber pilot in the Pacific Theater of World War II. His squadron took off at 8:15 a.m. on a mission to bomb Japanese radio towers and receivers on the island of Chi Chi Jima. Anti-aircraft guns and radar surrounded the radio tower.

The first plane dove through black clouds of intense anti-aircraft fire and dropped several bombs. So did the next. Then Bush’s turn came up. Bush later described getting hit to James Bradley, author of Flyboys: A True Story of Courage.

“You see the explosions all round you, these dark, threatening puffs of black smoke. You’re tense in your body, but you can’t do anything about it. You cannot take evasive action, so you get used to it. You just think to yourself, ‘This is my duty and I have got to do it’.”

He paused. “And, of course, you always thought someone else was going to get hit.”

As he reached the altitude to drop his bombs, a Japanese shell hit his plane.

“There was a fierce jolt and it lifted the plane forward,” he said. “We were probably falling at a speed of 190 miles an hour. Smoke was coming up from the engine; I couldn’t see the controls. I saw flames running along the wings to the fuel tanks.”

Hit the Silk

George Bush in his plane, a Grumman TBM Avenger.

He thought, “This is really bad.”

But, he said, he was thinking of what he was supposed to do. “And what I was supposed to do was drop those bombs and haul ass out of there.”

Bush continued his dive, released his bombs and turned east to clear the island. He shouted into the intercom, “Hit the silk! Hit the silk!” telling his crewmates to bail out. Both died.

George Bush bailed out over the water and floated on an inflatable raft. Fighter planes circled overhead to protect him. After four hours, the lifeguard submarine USS Finback surfaced and sailors fished him out of the water.

His words on being rescued: “Happy to be aboard.”

He then spent a month on the submarine, often standing the midnight-to-4 a.m. watch. Much later, he recounted those nights:

I’ll never forget the beauty of the Pacific — the flying fish, the stark wonder of the sea, the waves breaking across the bow. It was absolutely dark in the middle of the Pacific; the nights were so clear and the stars so brilliant. It was wonderful and energizing, a time to talk to God.

I had time to reflect, to go deep inside myself and search for answers. People talk about a kind of foxhole Christianity, where you’re in trouble and think you’re going to die, and so you want to make everything right with God and everybody else right there in the last minute.

But this was just the opposite of that. I had already faced death, and God had spared me. I had this very deep and profound gratitude and a sense of wonder.

Photo courtesy George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. This story was updated in 2023. 


When Greenwich Kicked Out the United Nations - New England Historical Society March 20, 2016 - 7:39 am

[…] Greenwich Time newspaper by Prescott Bush, a resident, banker, future U.S. senator and father of George H.W. Bush. It shocked the […]

Six Presidential Houses in New England - New England Historical Society February 17, 2018 - 9:09 am

[…] elder president had left Yale as a sophomore to serve in the Navy. Of his living conditions, he wrote, “Not to make too much of the postwar housing shortage, but […]

New England's Six Oldest Golf Clubs - New England Historical Society June 2, 2018 - 9:03 am

[…] Greenwich. The golf course started out with five rough holes, but grew to 165 well-manicured acres. George H.W. Bush met Barbara Pierce at a Greenwich Country Club Christmas dance, and his father and brother both […]

The Salem Witch Trials, or Still Raking It In After All These Years - New England Historical Society October 23, 2018 - 5:59 am

[…] Parker, hanged as a witch in Salem, has two descendants elected president of the United States: George H.W. and George W. […]

Rhode Island’s Little Annapolis: The PT Boat Training Center at Melville - New England Historical Society May 15, 2020 - 5:04 pm

[…] Nixon saw them from the Quonset Point Naval air station while he trained there in 1942. Perhaps George H.W. Bush had an aerial view of the little boats while training at the Charlestown Naval Air Station. And […]

Comments are closed.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!