Wednesday, November 21, 2012

President Bush Presidential Library & Museum


George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

We walked away from the Presidential Library and Museum of George H. W. Bush in College Station, Texas, with the feeling that he had had almost an ideal background as preparation to serve as our president.  Before his inauguration in 1989, he had been a war hero, a Congressman, an Ambassador to the United Nations, a Director of Central Intelligence and a Vice President—all of this experience giving him a multi-sided view of the world and considerable ability to deal effectively with negotiations and crises.  

On the audio tour the commentary by George, Barbara and their daughter Dorothy gave friendly, intimate information including the couple’s love-at-first-sight meeting in college.   He had already been a World War II bomber pilot who flew off aircraft carriers, had been on 58 combat missions, been shot down, lost the other two men on his plane, been rescued at sea, and had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. One exhibit includes a life-size model of his Grummam TBM Avenger aircraft hanging from the ceiling, a model of the aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto, and a model of the submarine that rescued him. 

After the war Bush went to Yale on the G.I. bill, graduated Phi Beta Kappa in two and half years and still starred on the baseball team, playing in the college world series of baseball—a picture shows him receiving recognition from Babe Ruth.  

His early life with Barbara is recorded on a big television screen.  Through her writings we could understand the strong effect on them of the death of their daughter Robin at 3 from leukemia.  The family moved to Texas where he started an oil drilling business that made him a millionaire.  He felt that “any definition of a successful life must include service to others.”  He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1966 and 1968.

In 1971 and 1972 under Nixon he became the Ambassador to the UN, an experience narrated by his daughter. After some illegal activities had been exposed, Bush took on his next job as Director of the CIA and worked to restore the agency’s reputation.  Reagan beat him for the Republican nomination for president but asked him to be his vice president.  While Vice President from ‘81 to ‘88 he did much traveling around the world meeting leaders from other countries, covering 1,300,000 miles or the equivalent of 52 trips around the world. 

            We had forgotten how much had happened when he served as president from 1989 to 1993: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the revolution in Eastern Europe, German reunification,  the end of the Cold War, more freedom in the Baltics, the coup against Gorbachev, the dissolution of the USSR, the invasion of Panama, the protests in Tiananmen Square, and Desert Storm.  By touching screens we could see the news stories and learn of Bush’s policies and reactions.

            In the reproduction of the White House Situation Room visitors could experience how the president could consult with his advisors.  A Desert Storm barracks room had been rebuilt to show how the troops lived and a video gave Bush’s reactions to the war.  Outside the room the manikins dressed as troops included a woman, which we appreciated since our daughter Debra had served as an army major in active duty in Desert Storm.  On the home front we learned about the passage of bills such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.  

 When he left office Bush had a 91 percent approval rating.  However, he lost his bid for re-election in 1992 to Bill Clinton, partly because of the economic recession and Bush’s reneging on his pledge: “Read my lips: no new taxes.”  In the last display Bush and Barbara talk about their lives after the presidency and how they have continued to be involved in a variety of activities including the Library and Museum dedicated in 1997.  In retrospect we feel that Bush is among the most ethical of all our presidents.


A memorial to the fall of the Berlin Wall at the George Bush Library and Museum

Especially impressive to me was the sculpture, The Day the Wall Came Down, in the central courtyard of the Library and Museum of George H.W. Bush in College Station, Texas.  Seeing the five horses, leaping over the rubble of the demolished Berlin Wall commemorating the November 9, 1989, fall of the barrier between East and West Berlin, brought back memories of the Cold War and the two and half years I was a civilian instructor at Air Force bases in Europe

The sculptor, Veryl Goodnight of Santa Fe, New Mexico, said after she saw the people streaming through the collapsed wall, she dreamed of horses escaping into freedom and used them as a symbol of that freedom.   Some family members had not seen each other for 28 years. In some places the wall had been doubled and the space between had been called the “death strip.”  Goodnight had placed the stallion, symbolic of man, entirely in what would have been East Berlin, and the four mares, symbolic of family, as passing the “death strip’ and entering to freedom.       

Another casting of the sculpture, a gift of the American people to the German people, was delivered by the US Air Force on the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, was installed by the German army in the Allied Museum in the former American sector in a reunited free Berlin, and was unveiled by George H. W. Bush in 1998.  

The second memento in the Bush Museum is a four-foot-wide section of the Berlin Wall bright with graffiti on the West Berlin side, gray on the other.  It is protected from visitors’ need to touch by a transparent covering. 

Carla and I and our children lived in Europe at a time when tensions were high, and we could feel a sense of danger all around us.  The pilots I worked with seemed to be anticipating the Russians coming across the border at any time.   At one base there were 21 F-4 Phantom Jets, each loaded with a nuclear bomb ready to take off at a few moments notice.  At other bases pilots practiced getting into the air in minutes in order to meet the threat of Russian bombers crossing the danger line.

When we were stationed in Germany, Carla and I made a visit to Berlin.  We had to leave anything that identified us as being with the military at our apartment near Wiesbaden and used only our passports for identification.  The Wall was 14 feet high, 105 miles long and was built in 1961 to keep the East Germans from escaping to West Germany.  Like the sample piece at the Bush Museum the West Berlin side was covered with colorful graffiti, but the East Berlin side was grey and undecorated. 

We passed through the wall into the dismal section that was East Berlin, with unsmiling people moving furtively past dimly lit under stocked stores.   It was an unhappy place.  That 900 people were killed trying to escape was understandable.

George H.W. Bush was influential in ending the Cold War and the Berlin Wall fell during his administration.   It is fitting that he gets recognition for what was a major world event.

After retirement Bush continued his active life by skydiving