LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In an address to the American Legion today, Vice President George Bush astonished the veterans by declaring, "Today is Pearl Harbor Day," jumping the gun by three months.
Bush's error dumbfounded the 6,000 people attending the 70th annual convention of the American Legion and set them to murmuring among themselves during his speech.
"Today, you remember. I wonder how many Americans remember. Today is Pearl Harbor Day," the Republican presidential nominee said to a stunned audience.
"Forty-seven years ago to this very day, we were hit and hit hard at Pearl Harbor and we were not ready," Bush said.
Whispers From Crowd
Bush, who had diverted from his prepared text in making the mistake, carried on with his address for several more minutes as the whispers among the Legionnaires in the city's Commonwealth Convention Center grew louder.
"Freedom is on the march," said Bush, who, when realizing his mistake, diverted again from his text.
"Did I say Sept. 7? Sorry about that--Dec. 7, 1941, 47 years," the vice president said to applause.
"I'm glad I corrected that. I saw this guy (in the audience) shaking me off out here," he said as the Legionnaires laughed.
Remark Draws Laughter
At the end of his speech, Bush ad-libbed again in reference to his earlier mistake and tried to make amends, but his concluding remark only elicited guffaws from the crowd.
"I will never forget that day, Dec. 7," Bush said. "I was in a church service on that Sunday. . . . I remember that attack."
Bush spokeswoman Sheila Tate said later that the vice president apparently made the mistake because earlier he had referred to the date of Sept. 2, 1944--the day he was shot down in the Pacific as a young Navy pilot fighting the Japanese.
Bush, delivering what has become his standard defense policy speech and touching on no new ground, accused Michael S. Dukakis of favoring "an undeclared unilateral freeze" on the military with his opposition to the MX and Midgetman missiles, the Strategic Defense Initiative and two aircraft carrier groups.
From Louisville, Bush was going to Baltimore to deliver a foreign policy speech to the B'nai B'rith Jewish organization.