- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2003

It was a moment former President George H.W. Bush never forgot: the jolt, the flames and the determination to drop a quartet of 500-pound bombs on target.

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.”

It was Mr. Bush himself who pined, at age 78, to return to the site of his own history.

“Mr. Bush called me and said, ‘Let’s do a documentary about this,’” Mr. Bradley said Friday by phone from New York. “He told me it would be the most important thing he was going to do before he died.”

Mr. Bradley had his own stake in the era and the area. His father — Navy Pharmacist Mate 2nd Class John H. Bradley, who was attached to the Marines — was one of the men who raised the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi on nearby Iwo Jima in 1945.

The former president got his wish.

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 and another who’d changed his name to “Warren” to honor one of the original eight lost airmen.

Alone in a life raft, Mr. Bush paddled out to the waters that had claimed both his plane and his buddies.

But he was not alone. Mr. Bradley, CNN cameras and host Paula Zahn — far from her svelte anchoring duties in a New York studio — were in a nearby boat, preserving the moment on video.

The result is “A Flyboy’s Story: George Bush in the Second World War,” a one-hour documentary that will air on CNN Oct. 19, the first in a series of documentaries that will be featured on CNN to the end of the year.

“Many people don’t know that much about this side of World War II. We were very intrigued with this powerful, thought-provoking story. President Bush was very gracious,” said Sid Bedingfield, executive vice president of CNN Productions.

“When you see anti-aircraft fire — these angry, black puffs of smoke, knowing that one of them is right on top of you, can kill you — you understand the seriousness of the mission and you understand your mortality,” Mr. Bush recalls in one segment.

The book and documentary are part of some contemporary media synchronicity: publisher Little, Brown and Co. and CNN Productions are both owned by Time Warner.

Other topics in the CNN series include the war in Afghanistan, the challenges soldiers face when they trade the battlefield for the home front, marital infidelity and the “Mystery of Jesus.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide