News, Culture & Society

Jenna Bush Hager opens up about George H.W. Bush’s guilt over WWII deaths

Jenna Bush Hager has opened up about her late grandfather George H.W. Bush’s guilt over the death of his two fellow Navy crew members during World War II, saying he always wondered if he could have saved them if he hadn’t hit his head.

The 39-year-old paid tribute to her paternal grandfather on the Today show on Thursday in honor of Veterans Day, recalling how he had enlisted in the U.S. Navy against his parents’ wishes on June 12, 1942 — the day he turned 18 and graduated from Phillips Academy.  

The former president was just days shy of his 19th birthday when he was commissioned as an ensign in the Naval Reserve nearly a year later.  

‘First of all, he was one of the youngest naval aviators, and he fought his parents on it,’ Jenna said. ‘His parents said, “Enlist, but we want you to go to college first,” and he said no. He never disobeyed his parents before then, but he said, “No, I want to serve,” so he went and he signed up without his parents’ blessing, really.’

  

Memories: Jenna Bush Hager, 39, paid tribute to her late grandfather, former President George H.W. Bush, on the Today show on Thursday in honor of Veteran’s Day

Proud: The host explained that her grandfather enlisted in the U.S. Navy against his parents' wishes and became one of the youngest naval aviators

Proud: The host explained that her grandfather enlisted in the U.S. Navy against his parents’ wishes and became one of the youngest naval aviators 

Incredible story: 'He never disobeyed his parents before then, but he said, "No, I want to serve," so he went and he signed up without his parents' blessing, really,' she shared

Incredible story: ‘He never disobeyed his parents before then, but he said, “No, I want to serve,” so he went and he signed up without his parents’ blessing, really,’ she shared 

In 1944, Bush started flying torpedo bombers off aircraft carriers in the Pacific theater. That September he was piloting one of the four aircrafts attacking the Japanese installations on Chi Chi Jima when his plane was shot.  

‘And then he was shot down, and two of the men in the airplane died,” Jenna said. 

While his plane’s engine was on fire, he managed to release his bombs before parachuting into the water. He hit his head on the plane during the jump and was later rescued by a U.S. submarine. 

Two members of his crew — William G. White and John Delaney — didn’t survive.   

War hero: Bush was just days shy of his 19th birthday when he was commissioned as an ensign in the Naval Reserve in 1943

War hero: Bush was just days shy of his 19th birthday when he was commissioned as an ensign in the Naval Reserve in 1943

War hero: Bush was just days shy of his 19th birthday when he was commissioned as an ensign in the Naval Reserve in 1943 

Loss: In September 1944, his plane was shot down, and he was forced to parachute into the water. Two members of his crew, William G. White and John Delaney, died

Loss: In September 1944, his plane was shot down, and he was forced to parachute into the water. Two members of his crew, William G. White and John Delaney, died

‘Because he hit his head, he always wondered had he not hit his head when he jumped out of the plane, could he have saved them?’ Jenna shared. ‘And that’s why he continued to jump out of the plane.’

Bush’s bravery during the mission earned him a Distinguished Flying Cross. He flew a total of 58 combat missions during the war. In 1948, he graduated from Yale University and went on to become the 41s president. 

Before his death in 2018 at age 94, he completed a total of eight skydives in memory of his late crew members. He celebrated his 75th, 80th, 85, and 90th birthdays skydiving with the Golden Knights parachute team.   

In June, Jenna leaped out of an airplane from 10,000 feet live on the Today show in honor of her late grandfather. 

Tradition: Before Bush's death in 2018 at age 94, he completed a total of eight skydives in memory of his late crew members. He is pictured skydiving in November 2007

Tradition: Before Bush’s death in 2018 at age 94, he completed a total of eight skydives in memory of his late crew members. He is pictured skydiving in November 2007 

Last jump: Bush was in a wheelchair and unable to walk when he went skydiving on his 90th birthday in Kennebunkport, Maine, in June 2014

Last jump: Bush was in a wheelchair and unable to walk when he went skydiving on his 90th birthday in Kennebunkport, Maine, in June 2014 

The Today host did a tandem jump with Sgt. 1st class Joseph Abeln of the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights — the same parachute team her ‘Gampy’ jumped with on his milestone birthdays. 

Jenna wrote about skydiving in honor of her grandfather in an essay for Today, explaining he never forgot about his former crew members.  

‘He told me once that he jumps for them,’ she said. ‘He jumped because he lived.’  

Bush was in a wheelchair and unable to walk when he went skydiving on his 90th birthday in Kennebunkport, Maine, in June 2014. 

‘One night at dinner that summer my Gampy, at the head of our robin’s-egg blue table, leaned over to me and whispered, “Don’t forget to enjoy the game,”‘ Jenna recalled. 

Homage: In June, Jenna leaped out of an airplane from 10,000 feet live on the Today show in honor of her late grandfather

Homage: In June, Jenna leaped out of an airplane from 10,000 feet live on the Today show in honor of her late grandfather

Tribute: Jenna wrote about skydiving in memory of her grandfather in an essay for Today, saying: 'I jump for him'

Tribute: Jenna wrote about skydiving in memory of her grandfather in an essay for Today, saying: ‘I jump for him’ 

‘His voice was weak but he continued, “Jenna, don’t be scared to be in the ring, and don’t forget to enjoy every moment — to live every moment. I miss being an active part of the game.”‘

Jenna’s jump was also a tribute to the Army, which celebrated its 246th birthday on June 14. She landed on the grounds at the National Museum of the United States Army after falling for around two miles. 

That was her second time skydiving; she executed her first jump over two decades ago when she was 18. In her essay, the mom of three wrote that she was jumping for her Gampy.

‘And so today, seven years after the last time he jumped, I jump for him,’ she said. ‘And I will jump because I’m in the game, enjoying every moment, and feeling closer to him in the heavens.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk