Known in Japanese as “Father Island”, Chichijima is the biggest in the Ogasawara archipelago, and strategically located in the Pacific Ocean for an empire attempting to make the most of their moves against a western superpower. Expanding upon a modest naval port built in 1914, the Japanese created a key World War II post upon the island that rises out of the Pacific roughly 1000 kilometers south of mainland Japan and 250 kilometers north of Iwo Jima. Chichijima sent critical troops and supplies to its more well known neighbor island before the famous late winter battle took place. Yet while American troops famously raised their flag atop Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi, they never captured Chichijima in wartime. This does not mean the they did not try to; quite the opposite. Even before the battle of Iwo Jima, Chichijima was a thorn in the Allies’ side due to its prominent role as radio communications hub for the Japanese Navy. In order for the Americans to achieve in the Pacific Theater, Chichijima simply had to go.
In September 1944, the United States Navy took to the air and assembled the Avengers, in this case, four TBM Avenger torpedo bombers. This was the same plane that Paul Newman flew on as a rear gunner, but as cool as the man who played Cool Hand Like was, we are not here to discuss him. We’re here to talk about Skin.
Fairly fresh off of being called up to the big leagues as the (then) youngest naval airman ever on June 9th of 1943, a skinny pilot who was three days way from turning 19 was making a name for himself. Eventually his slim figure garnered him the nickname “Skin”. Skin’s skill was evident, and his squadron helped win the massive Battle of the Philippine Sea, but it was his role in a critical attack on Chichijima that cemented his legacy as a Navy airman.
On September 2, 1944, Skins and company took flight over the island with the intent to knock out the radio tower and kill the island’s critical communication. All the planes took heavy fire, including Skin’s, and he knew he was going down. However, before bailing into the ocean, Skin dropped his payload and BOOOM! took down the tower! Skin’s two crewmen died. He was one of nine total airman who had successfully survived crash landings, but the other eight were captured, brought to Chichijima’s Japanese commanders, and tortured. In what is now known as the Chichijima Incident, the eight unfortunate airmen were beaten and later beheaded under the order of Lieutenant General Yoshio Tachibana, who even encouraged his men to eat the livers of the Americans. Tachibana was later tried, convicted of war crimes, and hanged.
Skin was lucky enough to be rescued by the USS Finback, a submarine that carried him away to safety as the only survivor of his squadron who had to bail out in the raid on Chichijima. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism, but he was more focused on a different aspect of the battle’s aftermath: why, of nine men, was he the only one to survive? Did he have some greater purpose, or role yet to play. As it happens, he did. Some time after the battle, he married his girlfriend, Barbara Pierce, and he would remain devoted to her for the next 73 years. Once discharged from the Navy, Skin attended Yale and earned an economics degree. He even was elected president of his fraternity!
Of course, this would pale to later accomplishments, as he would be eventually be elected to a more prominent presidential office where he was no longer known as “Skin” the hotshot Navy airman, but George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States of America.
Following graduation from Yale, Bush promptly moved with his family to Texas and became a successful oil businessman. After a few attempts to jump into politics, he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1966. He never made it into the Senate, but then President Nixon pegged him to become Ambassador to the United Nations. His time there was known mostly for his unsuccessful attempt to sway the UN from expelling Taiwan from the floor in favor of the People’s Republic of China. He later worked as a liaison to China for Gerald Ford, but first followed his UN gig with one as head of the Republican National Committee.
As RNC Chairman, Bush’s political beliefs and faith in Richard Nixon, the man who had placed him in prime positions, was shaken by the Watergate scandal. Initially, Bush defended his party and president, but it soon became clear to him that the latter had committed crimes and was a threat to the former. He encouraged Nixon to resign, and helped rebuild the Republican party after Nixon obliged. Gerald Ford considered Bush for his vice president, but instead selected him to fill the role of CIA Director. Bush only spent just under a year in the position throughout 1976 until Jimmy Carter assumed the presidency on January 20, 1977. Brief though it was, Bush is credited with reinstating trust in the CIA in his time there after some major scandals had shaken the agency – although his CIA also supported Operation Condor, which lent a hand to Latin American dictators where it helped American interests out.
Hey, this ain’t no puff piece, and George H.W. Bush certainly made mistakes. Nevertheless, in rare form for political candidates of any era, he often admitted when he was wrong, sometimes directly, and many an occasion with policy change. He ran for president himself in 1980, and lost, but was chosen by eventual winner Ronald Reagan to be vice president, and after eight years of service in that role, he won the big election for himself. In time after taking over the presidency, Bush realized that Reagan had made some big oopsies, especially where his economic policy (which Bush never loved) was concerned. Bush went against his predecessor, and his own famous campaign promise (“Read my lips: no new taxes”), in an effort to fix the financial situation.
Besides seeking balance in the budget, Bush also balanced his own agenda with the needs of all Americans and frequently worked with a Democrat-dominated Congress to pass some of the most important policy in the last few decades, and perhaps some of the most important in American history.
At his core, George H.W. Bush stuck to his guns – well, not really, actually – and this is what made him a beloved leader and American figure: his ability to admit when he was wrong and to put aside political pushes when it interfered with progress. We all change over time, and George H.W. Bush was no exception. His direction may have wobbled at times, as our own does with time, but he always sought to move this country in the right direction, and even though that may not have been immediately apparent to all of his constituents and contemporaries at the time of his presidency, it is clear that time has shone what a great American he truly was. Rest in peace, Mr. President, or as I probably should say, Barbara’s loving husband.
Thanks for reading. If you want to explore the life of George H.W. Bush more extensively, then read this New York Times article and watch this Vox video:
Goodbye Mr. Bush,