How important can the influence of a former president be in our daily lives? You might be pleasantly surprised by the answer.
Think back to December and you may recall how the passing of our 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush, was accompanied by a short, temporary truce in the media’s coverage of the constant political partisanship that occurs daily throughout our country.
For more than a week, political pundits seemed to reflect more on President Bush’s legacy than on the divisiveness that has become a part of our political landscape. More than a few commentators used the opportunity to refer to the late president as the “last of the presidents of the greatest generation.”
All of the accolades bestowed upon Bush undoubtedly hit a collective nerve with the American people. How do I know, you ask? The experience of my 97-year-old, World War II submarine-veteran father can give you the answer to that.
Throughout the month of December, my father conducted a different type of navigation than when he was a 1st class petty officer patrolling the Pacific during World War II. His mission was to locate holiday gifts for family members. “Pop” could be seen in the shops around Huntington in his portable passenger chair, piloted by yours truly, proudly donning his USS Ray 271 cap. It was on these occasions that he would be approached by numerous strangers offering this heartfelt sentiment: “Thank you for your service!”
In the past, this type of spoken gratitude was usually reserved for such special occasions as Veterans Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Surprisingly, patriotic acts of kindness were happening instead during the hectic holiday season. Thankful acknowledgments were delivered by both the young and not-so-young. Doors held open to enter and exit department stores were accompanied by kind words and glad hands.
Perhaps the most touching of these encounters occurred during a visit to the Walt Whitman Shops. A woman working behind the jewelry counter at Bloomingdale's spotted my father and inquired if she could give him a hug. She said the sight of my 97-year-old father brought to her mind memories of her 95-year-old father (also a veteran) who had recently passed away.
As we walked away from the counter, tears were in her eyes and mine: Hers were for the loss of her father, and mine were in gratitude that I still had him with me.
As I recalled these holiday encounters I recognized a connection. Each of these experiences was an extension of the admiration directed toward President Bush during the media coverage of his passing. It was a perfect connection.
A 20-year-old George Bush was picked up by a submarine when his plane crashed. Toward the end of World War II, my father’s submarine had the dangerous mission of rescuing fallen pilots, like George Bush, while, at the same time, having the unenviable task of holding off enemy aircraft that were firing upon them. In fact, Pop’s boat had a hand in rescuing 23 pilots during that campaign.
When people thanked my father, no one asked him if he was a liberal or a conservative. In the aftermath of George Bush’s funeral services, for that one glorious holiday week, we were all Americans.