Bush reneged on his 1988 campaign promise of “no new taxes” and signed a large tax increase into law. After that, he never regained the full faith and confidence of his fellow Republicans, Smith said. Refusing to hold the line against new taxes disconnected Bush from his predecessor President Ronald Reagan’s legacy and he never recovered, losing reelection in 1992 to Bill Clinton after one term in office.
Described by those who knew him as a kind and decent man, Bush envisioned fashioning America into a kinder, gentler nation. In his presidential nomination acceptance speech, he encouraged the country to eschew abortion and embrace adoption.
“Barbara and I have an adopted granddaughter,” he said. “The day of her christening we wept with joy. I thank God that her parents chose life.”
Brought up in a family that stressed service and giving back to society, Bush believed in volunteerism. In his presidential inaugural address in 1989, he called the American people to acts of service. He spoke of community organizations as “a thousand points of light … spread like stars throughout the nation.” In his second year as president, he created the Daily Point of Light Award to recognize the efforts of individual volunteers. That concept launched the world’s largest private nonprofit organization dedicated to volunteer services, which now engages more than 4 million volunteers and 30 million hours of service each year.
Bush was born June 12, 1924, in Milton, Mass., to Prescott and Dorothy (Walker) Bush. On Jan. 6, 1945, he married Barbara Pierce of Rye, N.Y., and they had six children. Their second child, Pauline Robinson “Robin,” died of leukemia at the age of 3, an event the former president could not discuss without choking up, even half a century later, according to those who knew him well. Barbara Bush preceded her husband in death in April of this year at age 92.
Anxious to serve his country in World War II, Bush enlisted in the U.S. Navy on his 18th birthday. Less than a year later, he was commissioned and received his wings, making him the youngest pilot in the Navy. He nearly lost his life during one of 58 combat missions when his plane was shot down near the Island of Chichi Jima, about 600 miles south of Japan. Despite a badly damaged aircraft engulfed in flames, Bush completed his mission before he bailed into the sea. With Japanese gunboats in pursuit, he paddled his life raft for two hours before being rescued by a Navy submarine. His actions that day earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross award and three Air Medals.
The harrowing experience spawned a president who took sending U.S. soldiers and sailors to war very seriously. Forty-seven years later, he agonized over the decision to go to war with Iraq.
“It is my decision that affects [the] husband, the girlfriend, or the wife that is waiting, or the mother that writes, ‘Take care of my son,’” he wrote in his diary. “And yet I know what I have to do.”