Former President Bush jumped out of a plane Tuesday and into the hearts of his fellow members of the World War II generation.
“I’m a new man,” the 72-year-old Bush told soldiers and civilian employees at the Army Proving Ground here after his jump from 12,500 feet. “I go home exhilarated.”
In what the Army called “Operation Second Look: Chichi II,” Bush jumped from a civilian plane circling the massive desert base and, with two expert parachutists guiding him, executed a free fall until he pulled his chute at 4,500 feet.
The former president landed upright and within 40 yards of the target painted on the desert floor. “It was unbelievable,” he told an assembled crowd of aides, Army parachutists and his wife, Barbara.
For Bush, the jump was the fulfillment of a vow he made after he was forced to bail out of his Navy torpedo bomber near Chichi Jima island in September 1944 when the plane was hit by Japanese anti-aircraft fire. The 20-year-old Bush decided he wanted to make another jump someday: this time from a plane that was not on fire.
The wish lay dormant for decades until February when he mentioned it during a speech to the Houston convention of the United States Parachute Association. The association then put together plans to have the former president jump at the Yuma Proving Ground.
Although he may not have had this in mind, Bush’s belated jump seems to come to symbolize a last hurrah of sorts for others who served in World War II.
“He’s jumping for all us World War II vets, to remind people of what we did and what we can still do,” said Milton Clarke, 71, a disabled Navy veteran from San Diego, who came to catch a glimpse of the historic jump.