The Man in the Arena

By Kevin Shannahan

George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, died at his home in Houston, Friday, Nov 30th at age 94. Given the march of time, he will almost certainly be the last president to have served in WWII. He is also the last president to have served in the crucible of combat, choosing the United States Navy over Yale after graduating from high school in 1942. He flew 58 combat missions against Imperial Japan, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions when his plane was shot down while flying a bombing raid in 1944.

George H. Bush was the son of Prescott Sheldon Bush, a successful investment banker who served in the U.S. Senate for ten years. He may have been a child of privilege, but he became a man of responsibility. The United States entered WWII while he was a senior at Phillips Academy, an exclusive prep school founded in 1787. Immediately after graduation, he joined the Navy, and at age 19, became the youngest Naval Aviator of WWII. After the war, he returned to Yale and earned a degree in economics. He married Barbara Pierce, the start of a 73 year marriage that ended with her death this past April at age 92. A successful businessman, George H. Bush was nonetheless drawn back to public service. He served our nation in a number of capacities. He was chosen by President Reagan as his running mate, serving two terms as Vice-President. Prior to that, he had served as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Ambassador to the United Nations and as an envoy to the People’s Republic of China. He was also elected to two terms to the US Congress in the 1960’s. In 1988, he was elected as the 41st President of the United States.

His term as President was to be an eventful one in the area of foreign policy. The totalitarian evil that was the Soviet Union finally collapsed under the weight of its contradictions and took its long overdue place in the dustbin of history. The people of Germany tore down the Berlin wall, erasing a decades old blight on the human yearning for freedom. The American led coalition dealt Saddam Hussein’s army one of history’s more lopsided defeats in Desert Storm. The world was a remarkably different, and better, place after his term.

President Bush, defeated in his bid for re-election in 1992 by President Clinton, was destined to be a one term President. He returned to a quiet life of friends and family, firmly adhering to the unspoken rule against ex-presidents engaging in partisan attacks. Indeed, he and President Clinton were to become unlikely friends who joined forces to promote humanitarian causes. President Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom and visited him in Houston a few days before his death.

George Herbert Walker Bush led a full life that embodied the founding principle of his alma mater, Phillips Academy, Non Sibi (not for self). He was the embodiment of President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 speech, The Man in the Arena.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

As a young Air Force officer, it was an honor and privilege to have worn the uniform of the United States under you as the Commander in Chief. As a fellow citizen, I can offer your memory no higher praise than this: I am honored to have had the opportunity to have voted for you to be the President of the United States.

Fair winds and following seas, Mr. President,

One thought on “The Man in the Arena

  1. President Bush and his wife Barbara were truly great Americans, kind and generous in their concern for others.

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