Like many Americans, I was deeply saddened by the passing of United States President H.W. Bush, a man I had the good fortune of having spent time with on several occasions while I served in the Marine Corps.
President Bush “41” represented all the qualities of a great leader...integrity, wisdom, humility, strength of character, graciousness, and empathy for his fellow man. He had the ability to make everyone he met feel like they were the most important person in the room. His sincerity, openness, and warm-hearted approach in dealing with difficult people and knotty issues was extraordinary. We have lost a great man, a consummate public servant and a genuine war hero, who loved his country, respected the office of the Presidency, and who believed in the better angel in all of us.
Of the president’s many wonderful displays of human passion, these stand out in my memory:
- The time was October, 1983... I had the privilege of being with then Vice President Bush, when he visited the Marines and Sailors following the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Aboard the 6th Fleet Flag ship, I was honored to assist the Vice President as he visited our wounded Marines, awarding them the Purple Heart. He was extremely thoughtful and sensitive in chatting with the troops, giving them an inspirational pep talk and encouraging them to keep the faith and to hang tough.
- In 1994, President Bush was the guest of honor at a fund raising gala in Los Angeles. The event was in support of the children of fallen Marines and federal law enforcement personnel. I attended the event in uniform as Commander, 1st Marine Division, and as I approached the president, he looked down and saw that I was wearing the Purple Heart Medal with two gold stars. He stopped me and said... “I see that you’ve been wounded in combat. How are you doing...are you OK?” And then thanked me for my service.
Boy was I taken aback by the sincerity of his comments.
These two stories, reflecting the president’s attitude and behavior, deeply warmed my heart and made me proud to have had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with a great man and a true patriot.
Fair winds and following seas, Mr. President... and God bless you and your family.