WASHINGTON — A small band of the Greatest Generation gathered on the National Mall at the World War II Memorial on Tuesday morning to mark the 69th anniversary of Victory over Japan Day that ended the war.
The featured speaker, George P. Bush, commemorated the heroic exploits of his grandfather, former President George H.W. Bush, a Navy pilot who on this day 70 years ago was shot down over the Pacific Ocean during a bombing run, and later rescued.
A Navy Reserve officer and veteran of Afghanistan, the younger Bush said that his grandfather, like most WWII veterans, was very humble about his war service.
“If he were here today, he would say this is not about him,” the 38-year-old Bush told a crowd of about 75 on a hot and bright summer morning.
With the Lincoln Memorial in the distance as a backdrop, the ceremony had all the pomp and circumstance of a military celebration. There was the presentation of colors by a U.S. Armed Forces color guard, musical accompaniment by the U.S. Navy Band Ceremonial Unit in dress white uniforms, wreaths honoring all the military services and the emotional playing of taps by the Navy band’s bugler.
Lt. Gen. Claude “Mick” Kicklighter, a retired Army officer and chairman of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, called the former president’s experience a “miraculous rescue.”
“If that rescue had not occurred, there would be a lot of Bushes that wouldn’t be part of our history,” he said.
At 90, George H.W. Bush uses a wheelchair, unable to use his legs because of a form of Parkinson’s disease. He remains active and on his most recent birthday in June, did a tandem parachute jump.
Besides his illustrious grandfather, George P. Bush is the son of former Florida governor and possible 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, and the nephew of former President George W. Bush.
“I come here bearing a clear message from my generation to yours: thank you,” he told the audience, which included a small number of WWII veterans. “Thank you for all you have done for all the great freedoms that Americans sometimes take for granted. … My generation will not fail you.”
The younger Bush said that “it was important that America won the war, but it was as important that America won the peace.” He cited some of the accomplishments that resulted, including the rebuilding of Japan, the postwar push to build the U.S. interstate highway system and the decision to embark on space exploration.
Bush also talked about the pride he has in his grandfather and in the USS George H.W. Bush, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier named for him, now in the Persian Gulf providing the platform for sorties against Islamic radicals in Iraq.
WWII veteran Russell Jenkins, 89, from Purcellville, Va., who had been a D-Day medic, had his picture taken with Bush and spoke to him for several minutes after the wreath ceremony. Asked afterward what it meant to him to have one of the Bushes at the event, Jenkins’ eyes brimmed with tears.
His voice breaking, he said, “It was a great pleasure to hear what he had to say. I love the Bushes.”
Told of the reaction by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Bush was moved and spoke to a few reporters about his grandfather.
“He’s happy some of his family have chosen public service,” Bush said. “It’s part of his legacy.”
As for his own fledgling run at public office, Bush, considered a shoo-in in Republican Texas, said, “I’m not taking anything for granted. I’ve still got 65 days to go. … This is a good break from the trail.”
And it wouldn’t be a Bush event without some talk of presidential politics. Asked about his father’s potential candidacy in 2016, he said, “He will make his decision towards the end of the year.”
With that, the latest politician in the Bush family put on his sunglasses and headed back to Fort Worth to be home in time for dinner.
©2014 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.