Jenna recalls how grandfather George H.W. Bush defied parents by joining military

George H.W. Bush didn't want to waste any time joining the military in the midst of World War II. 

In honor of Veterans Day on Thursday, Jenna Bush Hager shared on TODAY with Hoda & Jenna how her grandfather became one of the youngest aviators in the Navy after enlisting in 1942. 

The late president was only 18 when he was commissioned as an ensign in the Naval Reserve after defying his parents' wishes. 

"First of all, he was one of the youngest naval aviators, and he fought his parents on it," Jenna said. "His parents said, 'Enlist, but we want you to go to college first,' and he said no. He never disobeyed his parents before then, but he said, ‘No, I want to serve,’ so he went and he signed up without his parents’ blessing, really."

Bush began flying combat missions in 1944 and was shot down while attacking Japanese targets on the island of Chichi Jima. Bush parachuted into the water after bumping his head and tearing the canopy on the plane during the jump. He was rescued by an American submarine after the other two members of his crew died.

"And then he was shot down, and two of the men in the airplane died," Jenna said. "Because he hit his head, he always wondered had he not hit his head when he jumped out of the plane, could he have saved them? And that’s why he continued to jump out of the plane."

Bush was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in the mission. He ended up flying 58 total missions during World War II and also ultimately honored his parents' wishes, graduating from Yale University in 1948. 

He continued skydiving from airplanes into his 90s in honor of the two friends he lost when his plane was shot down. Jenna continued the tradition by skydiving herself in June in honor of her grandfather, who died at 94 in 2018. 

"He was one who didn’t really talk about his time in service, but at some point we had the opportunity to talk about it," Jenna said. "He continued to jump out of a plane until he was in his 90s because he was shot down." 

Jenna was able to calm herself before her big jump by looking at the cockpit door of the plane, which had a special graphic — her grandfather's signature in cursive. 


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