Opinion: Bush gave me a New Year's party to remember
The passing of President George H.W. Bush has caused many Americans to reflect on fond memories of the graceful humility that marked the leadership style of this great man. It certainly did for me.
I had the honor of attending the United States Naval Academy and serving in the U.S. Navy as a special operations officer during the first Gulf War.
In 1987, I walked across the Naval Academy graduation stage to shake hands with then Vice President George H.W. Bush as he gave me my diploma and wished me luck with a genuine smile. Little did I know that this man would one day be my commander-in-chief and give me unfettered access to a prime minister’s yacht.
In late December of 1991 President Bush embarked on a tour of the Pacific Rim that is most remembered for the incident where he became ill at an event hosted by the prime minister of Japan in early January. I remember that trip for what happened earlier, when our president was in Sydney at an event hosted by the Australian prime minister.
When the United States president travels the globe we all know the level of security that must follow. Military units are often called on to supplement the Secret Service for the security and protection of our commander-in-chief during these trips. I was stationed in the Philippines in the early 90s leading a special operations dive team. We were deployed to Australia to augment security for a New Year’s Eve party in honor of President Bush which was to be held on the Australian prime minister’s yacht to watch the famous Sydney Harbor fireworks.
It was a miserable, cold and wet evening as my team patrolled the waters around the yacht as part of the defensive perimeter. We spent hours in the water as guests and dignitaries arrived and boarded the vessel.
President Bush arrived for the party that was supposed to last late into the night, but as soon as the fireworks were complete the prime minister’s vessel quickly returned to the quay wall and moored. This was presumably driven by the president feeling ill, but he was a Navy man and “did his duty” during a stormy night.
As President Bush was disembarking, he looked down in the water and saw me and my team sitting in our rubber boat, in the cold rain, doing our duty. He stopped, turned to one of his aids, pointed down at us and asked “are those our guys?” The response was affirmative. The President then turned towards the prime minister and whispered something in his ear. The prime minister smiled, laughed and then gave a thumbs up.
We had no idea what had just happened but as the president and prime minister’s caravan departed along with their retinue, the aid that had been with President Bush walked to the edge of the quay wall and waved us over. He yelled down to us that this was our lucky evening. The president of the United States and the prime minister of Australia want to thank you for your service and are “giving you guys the boat.”
So instead of spending the evening in the water protecting our commander-in-chief, my team and I brought in the New Year, still in our dive gear, celebrating on perhaps the nicest vessel any of us would ever be on along with our Australian allies. Perhaps the best New Year’s Eve of my life because my commander-in-chief thought more about his guys being taken care of than he cared about taking care of himself. That is leadership.
This week our nation lost one of our best. A man who signed up on his 18th birthday to be the youngest aviator in the United States Navy, raised an incredible family, was a business innovator and job creator, served in Congress, as UN Ambassador, envoy to China, director of the CIA, vice president of the United States, president of the United States, father of a president, elder statesman, and model citizen.
Every New Year’s Eve I tell that story about that wonderful man. I am proud to have served under his leadership, and Mr. President, thank you for that boat!
Dave Dutch is a Naval Academy Graduate, combat veteran in the first Gulf War, graduate of MSU Broad School of Business, and successful job creator.