Bush trained in RI to become U.S. Navy fighter pilot during WWII
As the country remembers the 41st president, a Charlestown man helps NBC 10 News trace back to when George Herbert Walker Bush trained to be a World War II bomber pilot in Rhode Island.
The strip of land that's now known as Ninigret Park in Charlestown looked a whole lot different in 1942 when it was made into a U.S. Navy auxiliary landing field in the World War II effort.
“There were 250 aircraft based at Charlestown, along with the 1500 men,” said Larry Webster, who was one of the original founders of the now-defunct Quonset Air Museum.
The place was a beehive then, “a very active base,” added Webster.
The war was raging overseas. German U boat submarines were trolling just off the New England coast.
Bush was 19 years old at the time. He enlisted after the attack on Pearl Harbor and was learning to fly a TBF 1-C Avenger from November 1943 through January 1944.
“They practiced all the things -- various air maneuvers, bombing,” said Webster
Among the training missions Bush and other Avenger bomber pilots would fly: taking off from the Charlestown runway and flying up the 60 miles off shore where an old destroyer ship was towed and unleash their torpedoes from the sky.
“They'd descend at about 300 mph at an angle to drop their bombs. It would help them aim much better than flying level and drop them like the bombers of Europe did,” said Webster.
Bush lost his Avenger and the other two crew members in a combat mission that went bad over Chichi Jima, Japan, September 1944.
“The aircraft burst into fire. They think that he got hit either in the engine or some of the fuel lines in the bomb bay. He had fire coming over the wing. George Bush bailed out through the flames to land in the water,” said Webster.
If not for the bravery and courage of Bush, and dozens of others, some that lost their lives just in training from Charlestown, never seeing combat, the world would have been a different place.
“Maybe the war would have lasted longer, become much more violent,” Webster said, shuddering at the thought. “We used the nuclear weapons to end World War II, but what if the Germans were able to acquire something like that? It could have gotten really bad.”