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Flight of the Avenger: George Bush at War Paperback – 1 Oct 1992
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A profile of the young George Bush chronicles his military aviation training and his courtship with Barbara Pierce. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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These were dangerous hours for democracy; George chose a most dangerous specialization. Single-engine over-water flying, searching for the enemy, and low attacks through flak or fighters is not for the weak of heart. He could have joined the surface navy, or taken a billet Stateside, or applied for a deferment.
Although the book is not specific, his 'light' carrier would have been more challenging than the heavy 'fleet' carriers for landings. Equipped with smaller deck, more responsive to wind and wave, an approaching plane would have to be in the groove and on speed or the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) would 'wave him off' (refuse permission to land). And too many wave-offs would result in grounding. 19 year-old Bush soon became a contributing member of Torpedo Squadron 51, flying searches and bomb missions like any other pilot.
Even during those hectic spells, George wrote to his sweetheart Barbra daily. Only when he was shot down and rescued by a sub would the letters be interrupted. Finally, the crews were returned to the states for leave, when he married Barbra.
I liked the book for establishing the aura of 1944, of self-sacrifice and pacing during the Pacific strikes.
World War II correspondent and veteran writer Joe Hyams' workmanlike 1991 "Flight of the Avenger" was undoubtedly timed to take advantage of Bush's presidency, and its portrait of the young Bush is laudatory. However, Hyams captures a legitimate snapshot of the place and the times. Bush, although from a wealthy family, did volunteer and did graduate from the Navy's aviation training program to fly over 50 combat missions in the Pacific off the escort carrier USS San Jacinto. The account of the wartime missions of his squadron and his ship is detailed and authentic.
The highlight of that career may have been a mission against the Japanese-held island of Chichi Jima on 02 September 1944, in which LT Bush pressed home a bombing run despite heavy anti-aircraft fire. Bush was shot down, but managed to bail out of his burning aircraft and paddle away from the island. He was ultimately rescued at sea by an American submarine. What Hyams adds to this well-known story is the context that no American captured at Chichi Jima survived the war. The Japanese commander of the island executed all prisoners and apparently practiced cannabalism on their remains, for which he was executed after the war.
Hyams interweaves an account of young George Bush's courtship of Barbara Pierce. Their courtship and marriage was only one of many such wartime romances, but it makes for a good story in light of their lasting and obviously successful marriage, and Bush's subsequent career of public service. One son, George Walker Bush, would escort them to the commissioning ceremony as President, while their daughter Doro sponsored the ship commissioning.
"Flight of the Avenger" is recommended as a easy but interesting read on the career of one young naval aviator in the Second World War. If his time in the Navy was like many others of his generation, and perhaps distinguished most by what he did with his life afterward, it doesn't make him any less of a good example of what Tom Brokaw once labeled "the Greatest Generation."