The Navy honored President George H.W. Bush on Thursday with the largest-ever 21-plane missing man formation flyover as part of his funeral service in College Station, Texas.
USNI News reported that 30 F/A-18 Hornets departed from Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia, earlier this week to take part in services for Bush in Texas.
The missing man formation was intended to highlight the late president’s service during World War II as a naval aviator in the Pacific Theater.
“Being selected to participate in this memorial is one of the highest honors a Naval Aviator can receive,” Rear Adm. Roy Kelley, commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic, said in a statement to USNI News.
“In addition to being our president, he was also one of our brothers, flying combat missions off aircraft carriers during World War II. His service to our Navy and nation merits a tribute of this magnitude.”
This is the jet which will lead an unprecedented 21-aircraft flyover honoring fellow Naval Aviator President George H. W. Bush. The jets will be over President and First Lady Bush in College Station at 1615 CST Thursday. CAPT Kevin “Proton” McLaughlin will fly it, in the lead. pic.twitter.com/cfsupC7v08
— flynavy (@flynavy) December 4, 2018
Capt. Kevin McLaughlin, the commander of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic, was slated to fly the lead plane. “His aircraft has been painted to list ‘President George H.W. Bush, 41’ where the pilot’s name would typically go and ‘Barbara, First Lady’ where the naval flight officer’s name might go,” according to USNI News.
The Navy released a video detailing Bush’s career as a naval aviator, including his harrowing rescue from sea after being shot down by the Japanese.
CBS News reported that Bush flew an Avenger bomber aircraft, which had a three-man crew.
The lieutenant junior grade’s plane was hit by Japanese anti-aircraft fire on a mission over the Central Pacific island of Chichijima on Sept. 2, 1944.
Bush managed to complete his mission while his plane was burning and then turned it to go out to sea.
Retired Adm. Samuel Cox, director of Naval History and Heritage Command, explained that pilots who parachuted down to the island were executed.
Bush’s crewmates bailed out from the plane first, but were never seen again. The future president’s parachute deployed and he landed safely in the water and scrambled to his life raft.
“The Japanese came out after him. Some fighters from the flight were able to strafe the Japanese boats and keep them away during the four hours that Bush was actually in the water,” Cox said.
A U.S. submarine rescued the 20-year-old from the sea and from the Japanese.
“Bush was actually surprised when out of nowhere this submarine surfaces right next to him,” Cox said.
Bush later told author James Bradley that during the next 30 days on the submarine, he wondered, “Why had I been spared and what did God have in store for me?”
Over the course of the war, Bush flew 58 combat missions and made 126 carrier landings, while amassing 1,228 flight hours.
He received the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is awarded for “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.”
The 41st president was laid to rest next to his wife Barbara and their daughter Robin at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Texas A&M University.
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