Former President George H.W. Bush Dies

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Former President George H.W. Bush died late Friday, November 30 in Houston, Texas. He was 94.

Bush served as the 41st president, from 1989 to 1993.

Through a long political career, Bush served as a U.S. representative, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and vice president for eight years under former President Ronald Reagan.

In 1988 he became the first sitting vice president to win the presidency since Martin Van Buren in 1836. (The only other two are John Adams in 1796 and Thomas Jefferson in 1800.)

His presidency saw the one of the largest swings in popularity in history. It hit a high of 89 percent in March 1991 after the U.S. military defeated Iraq in the first Persian Gulf war. But it sank to a low of 29 percent in July 1992 in the depths of a recession.

Bush’s foreign policy triumphs over Manuel Noriega in Panama and Saddam Hussein in Iraq ultimately could not overcome his breaking his read-my-lips campaign pledge not to raise taxes and the poor economy that followed when he did.

Bush lost a three-way race for re-election in 1992. Bill Clinton, the Democrat, won 43 percent, to Bush’s 37 percent. Billionaire businessman Ross Perot took 19 percent. While the popular vote was somewhat close, Clinton won a landslide in the electoral college, 370 to 168, and went on to serve two terms.

Bush is the most recent of the four presidents of the United States born in Massachusetts. His parents were living at 173 Adams Street in Milton, not far from the Dorchester line, when he was born June 12, 1924. His father, Prescott Bush, changed jobs shortly after George was born, and the family moved. George grew up in Connecticut.

Bur he returned to Massachusetts for high school. He went to Phillips Academy Andover.

Upon graduating from high school in 1942, Bush volunteered for the U.S. Navy, becoming a pilot. He flew combat missions in the Pacific, including one close call when his airplane was shot down during a bombing mission. His rescue at sea by a U.S. submarine was captured on film.

Bush’s plane was hit by enemy fire, but he completed the bombing mission. As he turned out to sea, he could tell the engine was in bad shape and the he needed to abandon it. He ordered the two other crewmen to bail out, and he bailed out himself.

He pulled the ripcord to the parachute a little too early, and it momentarily got hung up on the tail of the airplane, which damaged the parachute enough so that his descent was more rapid than usual. When he hit the water, he realized that he had failed to secure his life raft to the parachute, so he had to swim for it. When he got to the raft, he had to paddle as fast as he could with his hands out to sea, because the current was taking him toward the Japanese-held island, where almost certain torture and death awaited if he were captured.

“I feel a lot of that clearly even though it was many, many years ago,” Bush said during a June 1992 interview about the experience. “Never get over it, actually.”

The other two crewmen died.

While still in the Navy, Bush married Barbara Pierce. Their marriage lasted 73 years, until she died this past April 17.

After the war Bush went to Yale, where he played baseball and joined the secret society Skull and Bones. After graduation he moved to Texas to get into the oil business, through which he became a millionaire. He got involved in Republican politics in Texas during the early 1960s.

Bush retired from politics after leaving the presidency in 1993. His son, George W. Bush, was elected president in 2000 and served until 2009.

The other presidents born in Massachusetts are John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and John F. Kennedy. (Another Massachusetts politician, Calvin Coolidge, served as governor of the state, but was born in Vermont.)

The 1988 presidential election between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis was the third to feature two major party candidates born in the same state. (The 1904 and 1920 elections are the others.)

But the Bush and Dukakis are the only major-party rivals born in the same county. (Milton, where Bush was born, and Brookline, where Dukakis was born, are both in Norfolk County.)