The USS San Jacinto (CVL-30) was an Independence-class light aircraft carrier.

The USS San Jacinto (CVL-30) was an Independence-class light aircraft carrier.

TBM-1C Avenger with Torpedo Squadron Fifty-One VT-51 from the USS San Jacinto CVL-30 in flight at Peleliu.

TBM-1C Avenger with Torpedo Squadron Fifty-One VT-51 from the USS San Jacinto CVL-30 in flight at Peleliu.

On 2nd September 1944 Lieutenant George W. H. Bush, an Avenger pilot with VT-51 on the USS San Jacinto (CVL-30), was ordered to lead an attack on a Japanese radio station on the island of ChiChi Jima. He continued with the dive bomb attack after his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and then managed to get his aircraft over the sea before baling out.

His two crew members, Radioman Second Class John Delaney, and substitute gunner Lieutenant Junior Grade William White were killed – one of them parachuted out but the parachute failed to open, the other went down with the plane.

Leo W. Nadeau flew as Bush’s gunner on all but two of his attack missions:

I was replaced by Ltjg. White at the last minute. As intelligence officer, White wanted to go along to observe the island.

[Nadeau had flown with Bush for an attack on Japanese gun emplacements on ChiChi Jima the day before] The antiaircraft (AA) fire on that island was the worst we had seen, I don’t think the AA fire in the Philippines was as bad as that.

No one ever knew which one bailed out with Mr. Bush, I would assume it was Delaney, because as the radioman, he would go out first to leave room for the gunner to climb down out of the turret and put his chute on.

There wasn’t room in the turret for the gunner to wear a parachute. As a gunner, my parachute hung on the bulkhead of the plane near Delaney. We set up an escape procedure where he was supposed to hand me my chute and jump, and then I was to follow him. The procedure took a couple of seconds

I felt bad that Delaney and Mr. White had died, I just had the feeling that had I been there, Delaney and I might have both made it out alive … that is, unless one of us got hit by AA.

Delaney and I had practiced our escape procedure constantly. He might have stayed to help White get out of the turret and delayed too long. it’s one of those things that never leaves your mind. Why didn’t I go that day?

In the water about seven miles off ChiChi Jima, Bush inflated his yellow lifeboat and crawled in – but his troubles were far from over. A Japanese boat was sent out to capture him – but this was beaten off when Lieutenant Doug West, one of his fellow pilots from VT-51, strafed it as it approached.

His position was reported by radio and the submarine USS Finback set off to search for him. He was eventually spotted through the periscope by Captain Robert R.Williams Jr a few hours later. Bush then saw the submarine surfacing:

I saw this thing coming out of the water and I said to myself, ‘Jeez, I hope it’s one of ours.

The original report of the submarine USS Finback on the rescue of Lt Bush and the search for other men in the area, 2nd September 1944.

The original report of the submarine USS Finback on the rescue of Lt Bush and the search for other men in the area, 2nd September 1944.

Ensign Bill Edwards, the sub’s first lieutenant and photographic officer, recorded the rescue on 8mm film:

I thought being rescued by the submarine was the end of my problem. I didn’t realize that I would have to spend the duration of the sub’s 30 remaining days on board.

I’ll never forget the beauty of the Pacific … the flying fish, the stark wonder of the sea, the waves breaking across the bow.

I thought I was scared at times flying into combat, but in a submarine you couldn’t do anything, except sit there. 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 depth charged).

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.

Lieutenant Junior Grade George H.W. Bush, USN, pilot from Torpedo Squadron Fifty One (VT-51) pictured in mid-1944. LTJG Bush would later become the 41st President of the United States.

Lieutenant Junior Grade George H.W. Bush, USN, pilot from Torpedo Squadron Fifty One (VT-51) pictured in mid-1944. LTJG Bush would later become the 41st President of the United States.

The incident was remembered when Bush was appointed Vice President, when he said the experience of combat had given him “a sobering understanding of war and peace”:

The cause was clear and there was a great feeling of camaraderie. There was a gung-ho feeling about the combat missions. But I must confess that there were twinges of fear.

There is no question that having been involved in combat has affected my way of looking at problems. The overall experience was the most maturing in my life.

Even now, I look back and think about the dramatic ways in which the three years in the Navy shaped my life … the friendships, the common purpose, my first experience with seeing friends die …

There’s no question that it broadened my horizons. And there’s no question that today it has a real impact on me as I give advice to the President.

The citation for the Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to Bush for this action:

For heroism and extraordinary achievement in aerial flight as Pilot of a Torpedo Plane in Torpedo Squadron FIFTY ONE, attached to the U.S.S. San Jacinto, in action against enemy Japanese forces in the vicinity of the Bonin Islands, on September 2, 1944.

Leading one section of a four-plane division in a strike against a radio station, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Bush pressed home an attack in the face of intense antiaircraft fire. Although his plane was hit and set afire at the beginning of his dive, he continued his plunge toward the target and succeeded in scoring damaging bomb hits before bailing out of the craft.

His courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Reserve.

This was one of three medals awarded to Bush during the war, when he made 126 carrier landings and completed 1,228 flight hours. More of his experiences can be read at Naval History and Heritage.

USS Finback (SS-230) underway off New London, Connecticut, 7 March 1949.

USS Finback (SS-230) underway off New London, Connecticut, 7 March 1949.

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Sep

1

1944

The ‘Great Swan’ through France into Belgium

Sherman tanks of Guards Armoured Division entering the outskirts of Arras, France, 1 September 1944.

[E]arly in the morning, the French population came to life and offered us any drinks we wanted. It was a party atmosphere. The French called us all ‘Tommy’. We realized we were now in the battlefields of the First War which our fathers had known so well. A common joke was ‘Come away from her, she’s probably your sister.’

Aug

31

1944

Warsaw Uprising – women and children suffer

Warsaw Uprisng - Stuka dive bombers over the Old town, August 1944

After an hour, we succeeded in digging out a middle-aged woman whose legs were smashed and twisted. Before she lost consciousness, she whispered through pale, blood-covered lips that about ten other people had been with her before the bombs fell. Now we began to notice a head, a leg, or an arm under the debris — a sign that we were coming to more bodies.

Aug

30

1944

Heavy casualties as assault on Gothic Line begins

An M10 tank destroyer of 93rd Anti-Tank Regiment passes infantry of the 5th Sherwood Foresters during the advance to the Gothic Line, 27-28 August 1944.

At that time we had to count the cost. I had lost one platoon officer, I didn’t know I’d lost the other one. I got the chaps in some sort of defensive positions. Getting behind these brick walls in the ruins, just to protect ourselves from this machine gun fire. There was certainly more than one machine gun. But they had us in their sights.

Aug

29

1944

US reconnaissance patrol holds off Panzer troops

US Army Pfc. Edward J. Foley of the 143rd Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division cleaning his Springfield M1903A4 sniper rifle, near Valletri, Italy, 29 May 1944

The Germans poured in the barn but didn’t harm the tank driver and didn’t spot me. They didn’t take the wounded man because of his leg wound. Two hours went by before the forward advanced troops of the 3rd Division came into the barn. Paul Blackmer, Louis Weiner and David Pritchet were captured. Koch died of his wounds.

Aug

28

1944

Over the Seine and “push on”

Sherman tanks crossing a pontoon bridge over the River Seine at Vernon, 28 August 1944.

The first few yards were not too bad, but then, as the pontoons sagged under the weight of the tanks, water sloshed over the tracks so that the roadway in front temporarily disappeared from view. It was a nightmare drive and it was with huge relief that we found ourselves safely on dry land on the opposite bank of the river at Vernonnet, a small, pleasant riverside settlement, now completely deserted.

Aug

27

1944

‘Friendly Fire’ disaster for Royal Navy off Le Havre

The Hawker Typhoon's devastating rocket armament was effective against tanks, gun emplacements, buildings and railways. Coastal shipping was another target, including this unfortunate tug caught in the Scheldt estuary in September 1944. In this case the shell splashes from the aircraft's four 20mm cannon assist the pilot in correcting his aim before unleashing a salvo of RPs.

The ship lurched over to starboard and rolled back to settle with a ten degree list to port, the officers’ cabins and alleyways having flooded instantly. Luckily in the wardroom we were all sitting either on the bulkhead settees or in low armchairs, not at the table, for at this moment cannon fire raked the wardroom just above table level, smashing right through the ship.

Aug

26

1944

No 4 Commando finally rest out of the line

Sherman DD tanks of 'B' Squadron, 13th/18th Royal Hussars support commandos of No. 4 Commando, 1st Special Service Brigade, as they advance into Ouistreham, Sword area, 6 June 1944.

About three miles beyond the town we marched along dusty lanes, the hedges of which were already full of ripe hazel-nuts. On either side were orchards in which rosy apples hung heavy on the trees. Here we halted. Each troop was given an area, an orchard with a barn filled with sweet-smelling straw. It was just like heaven. The date was 26 August.

Aug

25

1944

‘Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated!’

Brimming with anger, a French man attacks a German soldier being marched through the streets of Paris following his capture by members of the French Resistance. After the entry of the French 2nd Armored Division of the Free French Forces and the U.S. Third Army (United States Army Central), numerous pockets of German snipers who refused to surrender had to be rooted out in street fighting. Paris, Île-de-France, France. 25 August 1944. Image taken by Robert Capa.

Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the French armies, with the support and the help of all France, of the France that fights, of the only France, of the real France, of the eternal France!

Aug

24

1944

Paris in turmoil as liberation approaches

Members of the Free French Forces fight from inside the Paris Prefecture (police headquarters)(Getty)

Tomorrow morning will be the dawn of a new day for the capital. Tomorrow morning, Paris will be liberated, Paris will have finally rediscovered its true face. Four years of struggle, four years that have been, for many people, years of prison, years of pain, of torture and, for many more, a slow death in the Nazi concentration camps, murder; but that’s all over…