Sep 2

Lieutenant Junior Grade George Herbert Walker Bush, USNR and his rescue by Finback

Thursday, September 2, 2010 12:01 AM


On September 2, 1944 Lieutenant Junior Grade George Herbert Walker Bush, then a pilot with Torpedo Squadron Fifty-One (VT-51 ) assigned to the USS San Jacinto (CVL-30) , flew a bombing mission against a Japanese radio station on Chichi Jima. Despite his TBM Avenger being struck by heavy anti-aircraft fire before reaching the target, Lt.(jg) Bush pressed onward to deliver his payload of four 500-lb. bombs. This dedication to the completion of his mission earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross. 

Shortly thereafter, clouds of smoke enveloped the cockpit and Bush evacuated the aircraft 1,500 feet above the ocean. Radioman Second Class John Delaney and gunner Lieutenant Junior Grade William White were not so fortunate. One of them died when his parachute failed to open and the other went down with the aircraft. Lieutenant Doug West, an Avenger pilot from VT-51, strafed a Japanese boat that attempted to capture Bush as he as paddled his inflatable life raft out to sea. 

Fighter planes in the area then transmitted his position to the submarine Finback (SS-230) patrolling nearby waters to rescue downed aviators. A few hours later the submarine sighted him, but being plucked from the ocean did not completely put an end to the danger. Bush, along with four other pilots, stayed with the submarine for the next thirty days, the remainder of her patrol. During this time period, Finback sank two small freighters and endured attacks by bombs and depth charges. The pilots also stood watch searching for enemy planes and vessels. 

After the submarine disembarked the aviators at Midway, Bush was taken to Hawaii for a period of rest and relaxation. However, concerned about the fate of his crew, Bush boarded a plane to Guam and made his way back to San Jacinto.

  • Jim Valle

    One part of this account needs a little clarification. Why did Bush’s gunner stay with the aircraft? As written the story seems to hint that Bush abandoned his crewman.

  • Ed Mucha

    What have we here, another anti-Bushie checking in? The old saying goes; “if you weren’t there at the moment, butt out!” I would say that everything that could be said about this incident has already been so. There are numerous reasons for the crewman dying – inter-aircraft comms faulty, crewman severely injured, acknowledged but never made it out, got hung up bailing out. If the plane was filling with smoke and going down, it was obviously time to exit. The navy saw fit to award Bush the DFC so it just as obviously didn’t find him at fault, and to his credit he went back to his ship seeking his crew. So, that said, why do you, fifty-six years after the fact seek to criticize or impune?

  • Hank Rinnert

    Right on Ed Mucha!!

  • John Bradley

    Recently, I was told by a tour guide in Washington that George Bush, senior, was a jet fighter pilot. I questioned her and told her that I thought that he only flew torpedo bombers. Is there any record that he flew jets at any point?