Did Bush Sr bail out prematurely?

This was a story that I would like straightened out. During WWII George Herbert Walker Bush piloted a TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. While on a bombing run his aircraft was hit and engulfed with flames. According to Bush, he ordered his crew to bail out. One, he said, replied but his chute failed to open and the other did not reply and Bush assumed he was dead. Bush then bailed out and was picked up by the submarine USS Finback.

There was a standing order for pilots of damaged planes to ditch at sea to be rescued by air or by the submarine monitoring the raid. The exception was if the aircraft was on fire. Witness Chester Mierzejewski, who manned the rear turret of the aircraft 100 feet ahead of Bush’s,

It was especially important for the pilot to stay at the contols because the other two crewmen did not wear their parachutes while at their stations and needed the pilot to keep the inherently unstable aircraft under control while they donned their chutes. Then there is the unwritten rule of honor that states that a pilot stays at the contols until he is sure that his crew is either off the plane or dead. It is the violation in his eyes of that last rule that caused my father, a WWII pilot, to hate Bush until his death.

Did the mission end as Bush describes or did Bush bail out prematurely, as described when

Is there an answer to these contradictory stories? Is this more of “the fog of war?” Or does it point to a family history of overstating military accomplishments?

I think the man, Mierzejewski, deserves the right to have his story heard. :wink:

I don’t think it is possible to know whether there is any truth. I also heard that Bush once straifed a boatload of Japanese survivors. However, unless there is other evidence, a person’s memory is insufficient, especially in these contexts, where the stakes are high and bias may be involved.

Whether there is any truth to the story, that is. Of course, there is truth.


Well, it’s been a long time. Memories are easy to conflate. I’d have to see what the after action report said at the time. Personally, I’d give George H. W. Bush the benefit of the doubt, in this case, as clearly, it doesn’t seem to have been believed to be so at the time.

I wish people wouldn’t start with this crap.

OK, this is getting ridiculous. What’s next? Did George Washington kill large amounts of soldiers unnecessarily by camping at Valley Forge instead of just letting them go to the Philadelphia Day Spa and Sushi Bar?

How ridiculous can you get with this stuff, guys?

I don’t know about the Pacific, but in Europe it was SOP on the return home for fighter escorts to use their remaining ammunition, if any, on “targets of opportunity” once the safety of the bombers was assured. An example of such targets would be any form of ground transport, trains, trucks, cars, bicycles, horse drawn carts and so on.

I thought this was pretty slimy when it was being done to Kerry. I think it’s pretty slimy now, too.

G. H. W. Bush 's citation for the Distinguished Flying Cross. One detail from the mission not corroborated by the citation or by the OP’s citation, but listed in the USN’s official historical center website, here, is that another crewman did bail out with Bush, but his parachute didn’t open, and it’s unclear which crewman it was.

Bush flew 58 combat missions in the war, as a 19-20 year old. As far as I can tell, Mierzejewski’s charges were roundly ignored by Mr. Bush’s political critics. This is as it should be. They are hearsay charges, contradicted by official citations, and possibly motivated (decades after the fact) by other factors than pure pursuit of the truth. They should be (and generally have been) given little credence.

You understate badly. Such bullshit shouldn’t be given little credence. It should be given no credence at all.

I don’t recall any scandal over the Bush Sr. issue back in '88, certainly nothing comparable to what Kerry has to put up with in the last week or so. Or was I simply reading the wrong newspapers then?

Mr. Mierzejewski may have had a good view of Mr. Bush’s airplane, but he wasn’t actually IN that airplane. It’s always been easy to second-guess and criticize the guy in the hot seat.

I’ve known the elder Bush bailed out in WWII, but to be truthful I’m not famillar with the details. However, speaking as a pilot who was once forced down (by weather, not bullets, and no one got hurt) there is ALWAYS someone who is going to say you screwed up, made the wrong choices, were criminally stupid/irresponsible, and should have done 14 other things regardless of the outcome of the choices you actually made.

What damage was actually done to Mr. Bush’s airplane? Did he retain control over it? If the damage was such that he couldn’t control the airplane then waiting to bail benefits no one. Was there fire? Could there be extensive fire on the interior that does not show on the outside, at least at first?

Parachutes DO fail. It is entirely plausible that two men jumped but only one 'chute worked.

Why did Mr. Bush say the third crewman was dead? Could he see the man at all? Were there rivers of blood flowing through the airplane, or geysers of it on the wall whereby one could assume someone was mortally injured? Did the second crewman (with the failed 'chute) tell him the third man was dead?

How reliable is Mr. Mierzejewski’s memory? Could his attention been so fixated on the image of the first man to jump that he didn’t see the second? And, yes, is there any possibility of bias on the part of Mr. Mierzejewski?

Did Bush have an incentive to lie? Hmmm… well, yeah, IF he bailed early and unnecessarialy but are there any indications that he did? I presume you aren’t handed a medal two minutes after being fished out of the Pacific, so someone else must have been convinced of the veracity of his tale. And it’s not like 19/20 year old Bush would have much in the way of pull - no one, at the time, knew he’d wind up PotUS one day. You have to weigh that against other factors, like how likely it would be that a WWII era pilot would panic and bail, and the fact that going swimming in an open ocean during combat means you might not ever be picked up and rescued. If you want to get out of the combat area and go home you’re almost always better sticking with the airplane - unless it really is on fire or irrevocably going down.

And how well did Mr. Bush know his crewmembers, and how well did they all get along? If they were all the best of friends the scenario of abandonment becomes even less likely.

And while it is true that there is an “unwritten rule” that the aircraft pilot takes care of all aboard before taking care of himself, there is no obligation to go down with the ship if he really can’t do anything more about the situation. In the air, an emergency frequently gives you only seconds to make decisions and act upon them (if that long!) and yes, sometimes the wrong conclusions are reached and actions are performed that, after months of lengthy analysis by a crew of experts, are found to be less than ideal… but that in no way means that either malice or cowardice were involved. The pilot did not have the luxury of time or expert advice.

This is really the essence of air emergencies: You know something is terribly wrong, you don’t have all the relevant information but you have to make a decision RIGHT NOW - and if you guess wrong, you and other people might die.

So, to my mind, the question is not how did the situation appear to a tail gunner in another airplane, but how it appeared to the pilot of the airplane going down. What information did he have to work with? And how did he act on that information?

You were not reading the wrong papers. Mr. Bush’s opponents resolutely ignored the story. Mr. Mierzejewski was given wire service coverage of his charge that was mentioned (on rather rare occasions) by a pundit or two in the ensuing months, and then ignored. Since then, it has been raised, periodically, as an example of the fog of war, never (by any mainstream commentators or agencies) as an attack on the elder Mr. Bush. (I think that there have been sporadic references to it when the younger Mr. Bush’s ANG service have made the news, but there still has been no serious attempt to attack the elder Mr. Bush.)

As to the question of the OP: how would anyone ever know? Barring the amazing discovery of a roll of film from a gun camera of a plane following Ensign Bush’s or from someone in a plane to the side who happened to be taking photos of the raid, we are left with exactly one testimony that Bush bailed early and another more vague account that at least one of his crewmen did bail out unsuccessfully. There is simply no way to identify the “truth” at this point and Mr. Bush’s general service record tends to argue against cowardice.

Broomstick covered it pretty well.


Where did the “puff of smoke” come from? I have never been in a burning aircraft; but I wonder what could cause a “puff” of smoke and then nothing more? Aircraft carry gasoline (often in the fuselage, unlike most light planes today that carry fuel in the wings), and the radial engines carried gallons of oil. There are also electrical circuits that can burn. It seems to me that it would be unlikely that a fuel or oil fire would go out just by opening the canopy. Maybe there was a build-up of smoke in the cockpit that was enough to be visible from the other aircraft? Maybe there was still a fire aboard, but it was not smoking enough to be noticed? Or maybe a tracer round entered the cockpit, cause Bush to bail, and then burned itself out?

What I’m saying is that Mierzejewski might have seen what he said he saw; but maybe he misinterpreted what he saw. Or (getting back to the tracer) maybe Bush bailed early. There’s no way of knowing.

Given the thread title, my first impression was that the OP thought Bush41 had “bailed out” of (i.e. conceded) the 1992 election prematurely, when he could have challenged the results, taken it to SCOTUS etc.

In any case, analyzing something that happened 40+ years before it was first reported (and now nearly 20 years after that report) is kind of a time-waster. Bush41 risked his neck. Good enough.

From the anti-aircraft explosion itself?

Agree with the majority - it’s easy, and stupid, to judge based on imperfect recollections of instantaneous decisions in hellish circumstances.

I remember this emerging briefly (along with the lifeboat strafing allegation) during the '88 campaign. The Democrats rightly ignored it and it quickly disappeared (of course there was no internet then).

I thought this was sleazy and irrelevant then and I still do. I personally put Bush Sr.'s war record in the plus column for him in '88 even though I didn’t vote for him (I considered it, though, because I was reluctant to vote for Dukakis and I thought Bush had a very legit resume. Ultimately, I was just too wary of GHWB’s allegiance to the religious right, and I was really turned off by the Willie Horton ad. I held my nose for Dukakis but it was the least enthusiastic vote I’ve ever cast. I hated that tank picture).

I don’t like scrutinizing the war records of any combat vets. Yes, they use those records for their own political advantage (actually, to his credit, GHWB rarely used that card himself) but unless some real proof exists for some real crime, I’d rather just accept official records at face face value. I especially don’t like second guessing whether a guy was too quick too save his own life.

Except when the politicians are being two-faced, of course.

If only he had “bailed out early” whilst sireing children…