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George Bush Parachutes Again to
Exorcise Demons of Past Betrayal
By Ted Sampley
Former President George Bush, who bailed out of a crippled Navy Avenger bomber 53 years ago, jumped again in March of this year. His World War II jump is historic. It made Bush the only president to ever bail out of an airplane and the only president whose crew mates were sent careening into the ocean because their pilot had abandoned the aircraft.
Accompanied by eight Golden Knights from the Army Precision Parachuting Team and a civilian from the U.S. Parachute Association, Bush's second jump was less eventful and historic. After leaping from a civilian twin-engine airplane at 12,500 feet with two jump masters holding onto his harness, Bush fell until he deployed his parachute at 4,500 feet.
A half a dozen people--including his wife Barbara--rushed to help cushion his landing. Medical emergency personnel were also standing by on the ground. Bush landed about 40 yards from his target at the Army's Yuma Proving Ground, the sprawling base where the Golden Knights train eight weeks a year.
When the 72-year-old former chief executive was asked how he felt, he gave a thumbs up. "It was wonderful. I'm a new man--and I go home exhilarated," he said. "There's a lot of things about my previous incarnation that I do not miss, but I do miss the military," Bush later told base employees.
Prior to the jump, Jim McGrath, Bush's assistant, had said "The reasons behind this [the jump] are strictly personal, . . . It has to do with World War II."
Those cryptic remarks give rise to speculation that Bush may have been, as The London Times put it, "Trying to exorcise demons from his earlier jump, the circumstances of which flared up into controversy during Bush's presidential campaign.
In a 1987 account of the World War II incident, which differed from his earlier versions, Bush told about the incident on television. He claimed that during a bombing run against a Japanese radio installation on ChiChi Island, his plane was hit and engulfed in flames and that he ordered his crew to bail out. He said one did, but his parachute failed. Bush claimed the other crewman did not answer the intercom, so he assumed that the crewman was critically wounded or dead.
Bush, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for action prior to the crash, said that even though the plane was in flames, he managed to fly it on to the target and drop his bombs before he bailed out. Bush admitted, however, that in his rush to get out of the Avenger, he pulled the parachute rip cord too quickly and was gashed on his forehead when he hit the tail of the plane.
Chester Mierzejewski, an old war buddy of Bush, who said he was angered by the "false assertions" made by candidate Bush when describing the incident, gave a different account.
After 44 years of silence, Mierzejewski, who also was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, told the New York Post that Bush had abandoned his crew to death when there was another choice.
He said he was approximately 100 feet in front of Bush's plane as the turret gunner for Squadron Commander Douglas Melvin's plane, "so close he could see in the cockpit" of Bush's bomber. Mierzejewski's close wartime buddy was one of the two crew members in Bush's plane.
According to Mierzejewski, the squadron was in a tight-formation bombing raid against a Japanese radio installation on an island reported to be heavily fortified. He saw "a puff of smoke" come from Bush's plane which quickly disappeared and was certain only one man parachuted from the plane and that it was Bush, the pilot.
Mierzejewski said the Avenger torpedo bomber was engineered so that it could successfully crash land on water and that Bush doomed his own crew by bailing out and leaving the bomber out of control.
Other World War II veterans also expressed concern about Bush parachuting out of the aircraft. "He had a moral obligation to put that plane in the water in an emergency landing," Robert Flood, a former B-17 bombardier told the press. "He violated the primary rule for a captain of a multi-crew aircraft: The pilot never leaves the airplane with anybody in it."
Pete Brandon, a Marine Corps Avenger pilot, who also served in the South Pacific, said an Avenger pilot had two choices: Set the plane down in the water or hold it steady until the two crewmen could prepare to jump.
"In an Avenger, only the pilot wore a parachute," Brandon said. "The two crewmen wore harnesses. If the order came to bail out, they had to take chest parachutes from a shelf and strap them on - and bail out. The Avenger was very unstable. The pilot had to be at the controls the whole time or it would go right over on its back."
Steve Hart, then Vice President Press Secretary, described Mierzejewski's account as absurd. Hart said, "The Vice President has told us time and time again what happened that day. To suggest that the account is inaccurate is absurd."
What is absurd is the conflicting or missing reports of exactly what happened to Bush's two crew members. According to the Post, the intelligence report on the loss of Bush's plane in September, 1944 notes that it had become "standard doctrine" for VT 51, Bush's bomber squadron, "to make bombing runs on targets near water so as to retire over the water. This puts pilot and crew in position for water rescue in event of forced landing . . . "
The same document reports, without attribution, that "smoke and flame" engulfed Bush's engine, and that "Bush and one other person were seen to bail out. The chute of the other person who bailed out did not open."
The report was signed by Melvin and an intelligence officer, Lt. Martin E. Kilpatrick. Contrary to normal military procedure, the report was not dated and Navy archives were unable to supply a subsequently completed report.
Gunner Lawrence Mueller, who lives in Milwaukee, flew on the ChiChi Jima mission. When asked who had the best view, he replied unhesitatingly: "The turret gunner in Melvin's plane."
Mueller's recollections, jogged by a log book that he kept, support Mierzejewski's account. And it was noted that Bush's plane was the only one from the squadron that did not return. Mueller told the Post, "No parachute was sighted except Bush's when the plane went down." He also said no one mentioned a fire engulfing Bush's plane or he would have noted it in the log book.
The Finback, the sub which picked up Bush from his raft in the water, made no report of a fire on Bush's plane, but did comment on his crew: "Bush stated that he failed to see his crew's parachutes and believed they had jumped when the plane was still over ChiChi Jima, or they had gone down with the plane."
About six hours later, the Finback picked up another pilot, James W. Beckman, from the USS Enterprise, who stated that it was known that only one man had parachuted from Bush's plane. "This decided us to discontinue any further search of that area . . ."
Although the heart of Bush's story about the incident remains the same, Mierzejewski is adamant Bush's account is not the truth and blames Bush for the abandonment and deaths of both men.
"I think he could have saved those lives, if they were alive. I don't know that they were, but at least they had a chance if he had attempted a water landing," Mierzejewski said.
Bush is a Company Man
Bush was also the first president who had ever served as director of "the company," better known as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He is, and has always been, a "company man," a fraternity member of that shadowy world of informants, spies, counter spies and secret power. "The company" is notorious for plotting against presidents, defying federal court orders and gun and drug running, while secretly pursuing its own political and military agendas.
Nation magazine, in a 1988 article, quoted an unidentified source "with close connections to the intelligence community," as saying Bush "started working for the agency in 1960 or 61 using his oil business as a cover for clandestine activities."
The magazine also made public a Nov. 29, 1963 FBI memo from then director J. Edgar Hoover to the State Department on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which connected Bush to the CIA.
In the 1963 memo, discovered in an FBI memorandum in 1988, Hoover said the bureau had briefed "Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency" on the reaction of Cuban exiles in Miami to the assassination.
The article quoted the unidentified intelligence source as saying of Bush: "I know he was involved in the Caribbean. I know he was involved in the suppression of things after the Kennedy assassination."
As CIA director under President Gerald Ford, Bush fought hard on Capitol Hill to mend the CIA's wounded reputation after the U.S. Senate's 1976 Church Committee disclosures of CIA abuses of its secret powers.
When Bush took charge of the CIA, in 1976, he led the agency in its struggle against legislative proposals designed to safeguard democracy by giving Congress more real oversight in an effort to prevent the CIA from further abusing its power.
Bush and Noriega
There is also the sticky subject of Bush's longtime affiliation with the incarcerated former Panamanian dictator Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega.
The connection between the two men goes back to 1976 when each directed his country's intelligence service and Noriega was on the payroll of the CIA. The two had lunch together in Washington in late 1976 and met again in Panama in December 1983.
Former CIA Director Stansfield Turner told UPI in 1988 that he had removed Noriega from the agency payroll in 1977 because he was an "unscrupulous character," but Bush later reinstated him.
Turner said that after Bush became vice president in 1981, he "met with Noriega and put him back on the payroll" as an intelligence source.
As early as 1972, questions were raised within the U.S. government about Gen. Noriega's complicity in the drug trade. The Noriega drug link was first made public in a June 12, 1986 story in the New York Times. U.S. intelligence agencies had evidence, the paper reported, that the general was "extensively involved in drug trafficking, money laundering, selling arms to left-wing guerrillas and passing U.S. intelligence methods and sources to the communist government in Cuba."
On February 4, 1988, a grand jury in Miami and Tampa, Fla., returned indictments against Noriega which led to newly elected President Bush ordering a December 19th, 1989 military invasion of Panama by U.S. troops seeking to arrest his old comrade.
Noriega finally surrendered to U.S. Drug Enforcement agents and was flown to Miami where he was jailed and later convicted for drug running.
The U.S. military suffered 25 killed as a result of the invasion.
"Shut Up and Sit Down"
For 12 years, the "read my lips" president had promised (eight years as vice president and four as president) that the POW/MIA issue was "the highest national priority" and that there would be no dealings with Vietnam until the POW/MIA issue was properly resolved.
At the 1992 annual convention of The National League of POW/MIA Families, the questions POW/MIA families and veterans had harbored for years about the honesty of Bush's promises exploded into a nationally reported incident.
Bush, who was the guest speaker at that convention, became the subject of a demonstration when the elderly mother of a MIA stood up and yelled at Bush, "No more lies! Tell us the truth!"
Dozens more of the family members quickly joined in the protest, many holding up pictures of their missing brothers, fathers and sons and chanting, "No more lies!" and "Release all the files!" Bush snapped at the jeering MIA relatives, telling them to "shut up and sit down."
The protest and uproar continued for over five minutes until the crowd finally let Bush speak again. Bush told them, abandoning his original text, "To suggest that the commander-in-chief that led this country into its most successful recent effort [the Gulf War] would condone for one single day the personal knowledge of a person held against his will . . . is simply, totally unfair."
Later that year, despite his promise to "never" abandon the POW/MIA issue, Bush bailed out and initiated the beginning process of normalizing trade relations with communist Vietnam.
Another Bush Betrayal
Bush angered the MIA families again in April 1995, when McGrath made public a planned September 1995 trip to Vietnam by Bush. McGrath explained to outraged MIA families that Bush and his wife, Barbara, had been invited to Hanoi by Citibank and that Bush "doesn't really have a political agenda in going there."
The MIA families disagreed. They said Citibank was paying Bush hundreds of thousands of dollars to make the trip and that the real agenda was to speed up normalized relations between Vietnam and the United States so that U.S. business interests could more easily take advantage of Vietnam's slave labor market.
Accompanied by Vietnam veterans and former South Vietnamese political prisoners who had been held in concentration camps for years by the communist Vietnamese, the MIA family members staged a protest outside of a building in Houston in which Bush has an office.
Despite the protest, Bush went to Vietnam and embraced its communist leaders. For money, he shook the blood stained hands of some of the same communist leaders who had murdered U.S. POWs and orchestrated hundreds, if not thousands, of terrorist bomb attacks against the civilian population of South Vietnam during the war.
Bush's trip to Vietnam was a betrayal and a slap in the face to the veterans who fought against the communists and the activists working to establish human rights and democracy in Vietnam.
As for the suggestion that "the commander-in-chief" that led this country in the Gulf War "would condone for one single day the personal knowledge of a person held against his will," there were two men who knew Bush very well and could have spoken about his loyalty to the men and women in uniform.
Unfortunately, very few people have ever heard of them and neither Radioman 2nd Class John Delaney or Gunner Lt. Junior Grade William White are able to speak. They are on the bottom of the Pacific off the coast of a tiny island where their pilot, Navy Lt. George Bush, sent them when he made his first parachute jump.