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Bush War Record

September 09, 1988

Regarding Lee May's story (Part I, Aug. 13), quoting an ex-Navy gunner's claim that George Bush could have saved his crewmen by ditching his TBM in World War II rather than ordering them to bail out, please let me help set the record straight.

As the author of "Kataki" (McGraw Hill), I used this same Chichijima mission, and George Bush himself, in a crucial scene in my novel.

Besides visiting the island myself, I obtained from Navy archives the log of the Finback, the submarine that rescued Bush. I have his squadron diary, and the Navy's citation for his Distinguished Flying Cross. I interviewed Leo Nadeau, his regular gunner. Nadeau would have made the flight had he not been replaced by Lt. (jg) Ted White, a friend of a friend of Bush's.

All my evidence suggests that the plane was indeed on fire and that the decision to order his two crewmen to bail out was the only one available.

Bush was hit over an island on which there were 17,000 Japanese troops. He finished his mission (hitting his target), turned away and headed to sea. As an ex-Navy pilot who once flew the same type of aircraft that Bush was flying, I can guarantee that the last thing he would have wished was to bail out near the island had the plane not been afire.

Ditching held no terror for Bush: He had saved himself and his crew on a previous mission by setting the plane in the water. But over Chichijima, he ordered his crew out because he had to and bailed out himself, risking capture rather than death by fire.

He was indeed lucky to escape. After the war, a U.S. Navy tribunal on Guam hanged the island's commandant, Gen. Tachibana, for executing (and forcing his men to eat) captured American airmen.

A fascinating incident. Bush himself has been quite modest on his war record. I'm no Republican, but people should know.

HANK SEARLS

Newport Beach

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