George H.W. Bush dies at 94

George H.W. Bush dies at 94

He was the man who sought a “kinder, and gentler nation,” and the one who sternly invited Americans to read his lips — he would not raise taxes. He was the popular leader of a mighty coalition that dislodged Iraq from Kuwait, and was turned out of the presidency after a single term. Blue-blooded and genteel, he was elected in one of the nastiest campaigns in recent history.

George Herbert Walker Bush was many things, including only the second American to see his son follow him into the nation’s highest office. But more than anything else, he was a believer in government service. Few men or women have served America in more capacities than the man known as “Poppy.”

“There is no higher honor than to serve free men and women, no greater privilege than to labor in government beneath the Great Seal of the United States and the American flag,” he told senior staffers in 1989, days after he took office.

Bush, who died late Friday at age 94 — nearly eight months after his wife of 73 years died at their Houston home — was a congressman, an ambassador to the United Nations and envoy to China, chairman of the Republican National Committee, director of the CIA, two-term vice president and, finally, president.

President George H.W. Bush raises his right hand as he is sworn into office as the 41st president of the United States by Chief Justice William Rehnquist outside the west front of the Capitol on Jan. 20, 1989. First lady Barbara Bush holds the bible for her husband. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty)

U.S. President George H. Bush holds a news conference at the White House, Monday, June 5, 1989 in Washington where he condemned the Chinese crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander)

President Bush, left, talks with independent candidate Ross Perot as Democratic candidate Bill Clinton stands aside at the end of their second presidential debate Oct. 15, 1992, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander)

George Bush and an unidentified woman peek around a partition with a poster of Ronald Reagan, one of his opponents for the Republican party presidential nomination, before he speaks on March 4, 1980, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo)

Bush was no ideologue — he spoke disparagingly of “the vision thing,” and derided the supply-side creed of his future boss, Ronald Reagan, as “voodoo economics.” He is generally given better marks by historians for his foreign policy achievements than for his domestic record, but assessments of his presidency tend to be tepid.

“Was George Bush only a nice man with good connections, who seldom had to wrest from life the honors it frequently bestowed on him?” journalist Tom Wicker asked in his Bush biography.

Wicker’s answer: Perhaps. But he said Bush’s actions in Kuwait “reflect moments of courage and vision worthy of his office.”

Former President Gerald Ford lends his support to Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan and his running mate George H.W. Bush, on Nov. 3, 1980, in Peoria, Ill. (AP Photo)

U.S. President George H. Bush gestures during a joint news conference with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, on Oct. 29, 1991, at the Soviet Embassy in Madrid. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

The Persian Gulf War — dubbed “Operation Desert Storm” — was his greatest mark on history. In a January 2011 interview marking the war’s 20th anniversary, he said the mission sent a message that “the United States was willing to use force way across the world, even in that part of the world where those countries over there thought we never would intervene.”

“I think it was a signature historical event,” he added. “And I think it will always be.”

President George Bush is greeted by Saudi troops and others as he arrives in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, for a Thanksgiving visit, Nov. 22, 1990. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President George Bush is greeted by King Fahd as he arrives in Saudi Arabia, Nov. 21, 1990. At right is first lady Barbara Bush. At center is an interpreter. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Newly appointed United Nations Ambassador George H.W. Bush smiles on Dec. 18, 1970. (AP Photo/John Duricka)

George H. Bush (R-Texas) is seen on March 6, 1968 in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)

In this photo released by the U.S. Navy, former President George H.W. Bush is shown from his Navy service in 1942. (U.S. Navy via AP)

In this 1968 photo provided by the Texas National Guard, George H.W. Bush, right, is about to pin a lieutenant bar on his son, George W. Bush, after the younger Bush was made an officer in the Texas Air National Guard in Ellington Field, Texas. (Texas National Guard via AP)

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Bush quickly began building an international military coalition that included other Arab states. After freeing Kuwait , he rejected suggestions that the U.S. carry the offensive to Baghdad, choosing to end the hostilities a mere 100 hours after the start of the ground offensive.

“That wasn’t our objective,” he said. “The good thing about it is there was so much less loss of human life than had been predicted, and indeed than we might have feared.”

But the decisive military defeat did not lead to the regime’s downfall, as many in the administration had hoped.

George Bush is shown with wife Barbara in 1945. (AP Photo)

George Bush is shown with wife Barbara in 1945. (AP Photo)

George H.W. Bush, left, and Barbara Bush pose with their son, George W. Bush, in 1955, in Rye, N.Y. (George Bush Presidential Library via AP)

George H.W. Bush sits on a couch with his wife Barbara and their children in 1964. George W. Bush sits at right behind his mother. Behind the couch are Neil and Jeb Bush. Sitting with parents are Dorothy and Marvin Bush. (AP Photo)

George Bush, candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, gets returns by phone at his headquarters in Houston, Saturday, June 6, 1964, as his wife Barbara smiles at the news. (AP Photo/Ed Kolenovsky)

Rep. George H.W. Bush, R-Texas., who is seeking a seat in U.S. Senate, talks with a group of young people at a rally in Houston on Oct. 9, 1970. (AP Photo)

George H.W. Bush speaks at the opening of his Harris County campaign headquarters as he campaigns for in the U.S. Senate Race, April 2, 1970 in Texas. (Sam C. Pierson Jr./Houston Chronicle via AP)

Republican Party chairman George Bush calls a meeting of the Republican National Committee in Washington, April 26, 1973. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty)

“I miscalculated,” Bush acknowledged. The Iraqi leader was eventually ousted in 2003, in the war led by Bush’s son that was followed by a long, bloody insurgency.

Unlike his son, who joined the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam era but served only in the U.S., the elder Bush was a bona fide war hero. He joined the Navy on his 18th birthday in 1942 over the objections of his father, Prescott, who wanted him to stay in school. At one point the youngest pilot in the Navy, he flew 58 missions off the carrier USS San Jacinto.

His wartime exploits won him the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery. He was shot down on Sept. 2, 1944, while completing a bombing run against a Japanese radio tower. Eight others who were shot down in that mission were captured and executed, and several were eaten by their captors. But an American submarine rescued Bush. Even then, he was an inveterate collector of friends: Aboard the sub Finback, “I made friendships that have lasted a lifetime,” he would write.

This was a man who hand wrote thousands of thank you notes — each one personalized, each one quickly dispatched. Even his political adversaries would acknowledge his exquisite manners. Admonished by his mother to put others first, he rarely used the personal pronoun “I,” a quirk exploited by comedian Dana Carvey in his “Saturday Night Live” impressions of the president.

Flag-wavers greet Vice President George Bush after he was re-elected to the post of vice president, Nov. 7, 1984, in Houston, Texas. The vice president's wife Barbara Bush is seen second from right. Others are unidentified. (AP Photo/F. Carter Smith)

U.S. Ambassador George Bush gestures as he addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Oct. 18, 1971 during the China debate. He denied the U.S. formula was either a "Two Chinas" or a "One China and one Taiwan" plan. (AP Photo)

Former President George H. W. Bush, left, walks with his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, followed by their son, President George W. Bush, and his wife first lady Laura Bush, to a reception in honor of the Points of Light Institute, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009, in the East Room at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President George W. Bush, center, poses with President-elect Barack Obama, and former presidents, from left, George H.W. Bush, left, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, right, Jan. 7, 2009, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Waves splash President-elect George Bush as he casts a line while fishing in Gulf Stream, Fla., on Nov. 12, 1988. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

In this provided by the U.S. Army Golden Knights, former President George H.W. Bush free falls with Golden Knights parachute team member Sgt. 1st Class Mike Elliott, as he makes a dramatic entrance to his presidential museum on Nov. 10, 2007, during a rededication ceremony in College Station, Texas. (Sgt. 1st Class Kevin McDaniel/U.S. Army via AP)

Former President George H.W. Bush, and his wife former first lady Barbara Bush, arrive for the premiere of HBO's new documentary on his life near the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

George H.W. Bush, center foreground, acknowledges the crowd before speaking to the Republican Convention delegates on July 16, 1980, in Detroit. (AP Photo)

Former President George H. W, Bush, arrives on the South Lawn of White House in Washington, Sunday, May 11, 2008. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)

Text from the AP news story, George H.W. Bush dies at 94; made greatest mark in Gulf War, by Michael Graczyk.