A moving letter written by George HW Bush to his beloved then-fiancee Barbara has gone viral, coming as a tribute to the couple’s seven-decade-long romance.
George enlisted in the US Navy in 1942, on his 18th birthday, and proposed during his time in the force. He and Barbara became officially engaged in August 1943—a fact he celebrated four months later in a letter marking the announcement of their upcoming nuptials in the newspaper.
The missive, dated December 1943, documents George’s joy at their engagement and his profound love for his ‘darling Barb’, to whom the letter is addressed. It went viral on social media following the passing of Barbara on Tuesday night.
‘My darling Bar’: A moving letter written by George HW Bush to his beloved then-fiancee Barbara has gone viral, coming as a tribute to the couple’s seven-decade-long romance
Sentimental: Goerge signed off his letters ‘Poppy’, and joked that he was her ‘public fiance as of 12/12/43’ after their engagement was officially announced in the newspaper
A love that stood the test of time: The couple, pictured in February 2017, were married for an incredible 73 years, having tied the knot on January 6, 1945
‘My darling Bar,’ the letter begins. ‘This should be a very easy letter to write—words should come easily and in short it should be simple for me to tell you how desperately happy I was to open the paper and and see the announcement of our engagement, but somehow I can’t possibly say in a letter all I should like to.
‘I love you, precious, with all my heart, and to know that you love me means my life. How often I have thought of the immeasurable joy that will be ours some day. How lucky our children will be to have a mother like you—’
In his letter, George described how his love for Barbara came to conflict with his role in the Navy, and he made no secret of how much he longed to go home to his fiancee.
‘As the days go by the time of our departure draws nearer. For a long time I had anxiously looked forward to the day when we would go aboard and set to sea. It seemed that obtaining that goal would be all I could desire for some time but, Bar, you have changed all that,’ he wrote.
‘I cannot say that I do not want to go—for that would be a lie. We have been working for a long time with a single purpose in mind, to be so equipped that we could meet and defeat our enemy. I do want to go because it is my part, but now leaving presents itself not as an adventure but as a job which I hope will be over before long.
‘Even now, with a good while between us and the sea, I am thinking of getting back. This may sound melodramatic, but if it does it is only my inadequacy to say what I mean. Bar, you have made my life full of everything I could ever dream of—my complete happiness should be a token of my love for you.’
First meeting: Barbara met George when she was 16 at a dance in Connecticut, when she was studying at Ashley Hall School (left) and he was at Phillips Academy in Andover (right)
Writing it down: George (pictured virca 1943-45) enlisted in the Navy in 1942, and would stay in touch with Barbara while he was away fighting with sweet love letters
George also laid out his plan to arrange to see Barbara during the commissioning of the USS San Jacinto on December 15, 1943, as he explained later in the book All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings.
His squadron was assigned to the USS San Jacinto, and the young George was clearly eager for his fiancee to come to the ship’s commissioning. His wish came true, George later revealed, when both his mother and Barbara attended the event at the Philadelphia Naval Yard.
‘Wednesday is definitely the commissioning and I do hope you’ll be there,’ he told Barbara in his letter. ‘I’ll call Mum tomorrow about my plan.
‘A lot of fellows put down their parents or wives and they aren’t going so you could pass as a Mrs.—Just say you lost the invite and give your name. They’ll check the list and you’ll be in. How proud I’ll be if you can come.’
The letter also gives insight into the mind of George’s life as a young assistant gunnery officer still coming to terms with the ‘seriousness’ of his task.
‘I’ll tell you all about the latest flying developments later. We have so much to do and so little time to do it in. It is frightening at times. The seriousness of this thing is beginning to strike home,’ he wrote.
‘I have been made asst. gunnery officer and when Lt. Houle leaves I will be gunnery officer. I’m afraid I know very little about it but I am excited at having such a job. I’ll tell you all about this later too.’
Memories: The former president and first lady wed at a church in Rye, New York, which was the bride’s hometown, just weeks after he returned from World War II
Making it official: They tied the knot in Barbara’s hometown in January 1945, just a few weeks after George returned from the South Pacific, where he had been fighting in WWII
George told Barbara that if he had been allowed to give his plane a name, he would have named it after her, writing: ‘The wind of late has been blowing like mad and our flying has been cut to a minimum. My plane, #2 now, is up at Quonset, having a camera installed. It is Bar #2 but only in spirit since the Atlantic fleet won’t let us have names on our planes.’
The letter ends on a touching note, with George telling Barbara: ‘Goodnite, my beautiful. Everytime I say beautiful you about kill me but you’ll have to accept it— I hope I get Thursday off—there’s still a chance. All my love darling—’
He signed his missive by his own nickname, Poppy, and jokingly referred to himself as Barbara’s ‘public fiance as of 12/12/43’, following the announcement of their engagement in the newspaper.
The letter, George revealed in his book, is the only one Barbara managed to save of his time during the war. She kept it in an engagement scrapbook but all the others were lost.
George was a naval aviator in training when he and Barbara first met.
‘I’m not much at recalling what people wear, but that particular occasion stands out in my memory,’ he recalled of the moment in his autobiography.
The band was playing Glenn Miller tunes and he asked a friend from Rye, New York, if he knew the girl across the room in the green and red holiday dress.
The friend introduced him to Barbara Pierce, a publisher’s daughter from Rye who was studying at Ashley Hall finishing school in Charleston, South Carolina, and was in the area on a Christmas vacation.
Clearly captivated by Barbara, George immediately struck up conversation with her, revealing in his autobiography that they actually sat out their first potential dance together because ‘he didn’t waltz’.
‘[We sat out] several more after that, talking and getting to know each other,’ he went on, before saying of their first night together: ‘It was a storybook meeting.’
The next step: George and Barbara, pictured in 1945, soon moved to Texas, where he began making his mark on the oil industry, and the couple grew their family together
Growing brood: The pair had six children together. They are pictured with Neil, Marvin, Jeb, Dorothy and George W
When he returned to finish his education at Phillips Academy in Andover, she went back to school in Charleston, however it was just a matter of months before they had met each others’ parents.
While they were apart, George and Barbara kept up their long-distance romance by writing letters to one another—a tradition that grew when George went away to fight with the Navy in World War II in mid-1942, forcing them apart once again.
Barbara responded to George’s letters with her own heartfelt messages, admitting that she was ‘really excited’ about the prospect of their marriage, but also ‘scared to death too’.
She joked in one note: ‘If you hear a big noise up there, don’t worry, it’s just my knees knocking.’
Her fears were not entirely unwarranted; in 1944, her husband-to-be, who famously named three of his planes after his future bride, was shot down near the Japanese island of Chichi Jima. He was the only one out of nine airmen who escaped from their planes to evade capture by the Japanese.
Right-hand woman: Barbara is pictured alongside her husband as he took the Oath of Office in January 1989, weeks after the couple celebrated their 44th anniversary
The first couple: The former first lady, pictured with her husband in the White House, often spoke about her role as his closest confidante, saying she never tried to influence his politcs
Still laughing! Barbara, pictured with her husband in 1997, after he made a parachute jump in Arizona, once said part of her job in the White House was to tell her husband ‘you’re great’
Later reports revealed that those taken prisoner were tortured and beaten, before being beheaded or stabbed to death.
George, who was the Navy’s youngest aviator when he got his wings, was eventually rescued by a lifeguard submarine, and returned home at the end of that year, and married Barbara just a few weeks later, before he began his studies at Yale.
The couple tied the knot at the First Presbyterian Church in Rye, New York—Barbara’s hometown, before moving to Texas.
Here, while George turned his focus to making his mark on the oil industry, the couple also began growing their family, going on to have six children together: George W, Jeb, Neil, Marvn, Dorothy, and Robin, who tragically died from leukemia when she was just three years old, weeks before her fourth birthday.
The couple’s incredible love story went on to span nearly 80 years. During that time, George and Barbara faced triumphs and heartache together, both personal and professional, had six children, including President George W Bush, and 14 grandkids, eventually becoming the longest-married couple in presidential history.
On Tuesday evening, the former president issued a short statement about his wife’s death, paying tribute to the ‘relentless proponent of family literacy’.
The announcement came just days after it was announced that Barbara had been admitted to hospital for congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Soon after, she made the decision to refuse further treatment, and return home to be with her husband and family.