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National Archives

Fathers and Sons: Two Families, Four Presidents

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1924 -
41st President
1989 - 1993


George Herbert Walker Bush was born June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts to Dorothy Walker Bush and Prescott Bush. With his sister and three brothers, George grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he attended Country Day School and later the Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts. He graduated on his 18th birthday and that same day enlisted in the Navy. He received his commission and his wings in June 1942, becoming the youngest pilot in the Navy at that time.


On active duty from August 1942 to September 1945, Bush flew Avenger torpedo bombers off the carrier USS San Jacinto. On September 2, 1944, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire while bombing the island of Chichi Jima. He held his plane on its strafing run before flying over the sea to bail out, where he parachuted safely but his two crew members were killed.

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The submarine USS Finback rescued him from the water. Bush flew 58 combat missions, made 126 carrier landings, and compiled 1,126 hours of flight time. For his courageous service, Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals.


On January 6, 1945, George married Barbara Pierce of Rye, New York. Today they are parents of five children: George W. (current President of the United States), John (Jeb, current Governor of Florida), Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy Bush Koch. Their second child, Robin, died of leukemia in 1953.

Following World War II, Bush entered Yale University, where he pursued a degree in economics and served as the Captain of the baseball team. In just three years, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1948.

After graduation, George and Barbara moved to Midland, Texas, where he worked in oil field supply and co-founded three petroleum firms. In 1954, at the age of 30, he moved to Houston.

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In the meantime, his father, Prescott Bush, served as US Senator from Connecticut from 1952 to 1962. His father was an outstanding example of a successful businessman becoming a public servant.

After serving as Republican chairman in Harris County, George Bush ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate in 1964. In 1966, he ran for the House of Representatives and won. He was one of the few freshman members of Congress to be elected to the Ways and Means Committee, and was reelected in 1968. President Nixon asked him to compete for the Texas Senate seat in 1970, but he lost his bid for this election.

In 1971, President Nixon appointed him US Ambassador to the United Nations. He presented the administration's proposal for a peacekeeping force in the Middle East, negotiated a reduced US share of the UN budget, and tried to preserve a General Assembly seat for the Republic of China.

President Nixon asked Bush to serve as the chairman of the Republican National Committee early in 1973, just before the Watergate scandal broke. Later, it became Bush's responsibility to write Nixon asking him to resign.

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President Gerald Ford appointed him to head the US Liaison Office in the People's Republic of China. He spent 14 months during 1974 and 1975 developing important relationships between the two countries. At the end of 1975, Ford assigned him as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, which was being criticized for abuses of power and covert operations. Bush drafted an executive order to prevent the CIA from committing further violations to its mandate. Bush was credited with lifting CIA morale and preventing further damage to the agency.

Bush returned to private life and became chairman of Houston's First National Bank. He soon began to campaign for the presidency and formally entered the race for the Republican nomination in 1979. Ronald Reagan was selected and asked Bush to be his Vice Presidential running mate. Bush brought foreign policy experience and a moderate image to the ticket. They were elected in the 1980 election.


Bush maintained an office in the White House and attended daily national security briefings when not on diplomatic trips to over 60 countries. He served as Chairman of the National Security Council "crisis management team," and headed task forces on crime, terrorism, and drug smuggling. Reagan and Bush were reelected in 1984.

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Bush entered the presidential campaign and after nomination in New Orleans in August 1988 ran a successful campaign against Democrat Michael Dukakis.

Economic and employment issues generated the need for compromises with a Democratically-controlled Congress as Bush tried to develop his domestic program, but he made strong advances in foreign affairs. By drawing on his diplomatic experience and using sanctions, he accelerated the dismantling of South Africa's racial separation system. In a lightening-quick military operation in 1989, Bush forced General Manuel Noriega from power in Panama.

A series of summits with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev resulted in the signing of treaties on arms reductions and other issues. The Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall came down, and in 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved into a loose confederation of independent republics. Bush recognized the new states and sought agreements with Boris Yeltsin, President of Russia, negotiating substantial cuts in nuclear weapons.

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was a serious crisis requiring President Bush's assembling of a broad international coalition against Iraq. Recognizing that nation's desire to control a large portion of the world's oil reserves and growing nuclear potential, Bush obtained from Congress approval to use force to expel Iraq from Kuwait.

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In a ground war that lasted only 100 hours, Iraq was driven back across its border in a decisive manner.

The last American hostages held in Lebanon were freed in 1991, and Bush orchestrated peace talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Bush administration discussions with Canada and Mexico resulted in approval of a draft North American Free Trade Agreement in 1992.

A reelection looked promising, but voters in 1992 began focusing more on their fears about the US economy than on international successes. Bush was nominated but lost to Democrat Bill Clinton.

George Bush Presidential Library and Museum
1000 George Bush Drive West, College Station, Texas 77845
Telephone: (979) 691-4000 | Facsimile: (979) 691-4050 | TTY: (979) 691-4091