That spring Poppy Bush, as he was known at Andover, finished his high school degree and led the varsity ball club to a winning season. The last issue of the school newspaper that year shows a tall, smiling Bush — neither a wimp nor a nerd — standing with his hands on hips above the caption “Poppy Bush, Captain of Baseball.”…
A year after that, he was flying combat missions against the Japanese, the youngest Navy flier in the Pacific theater. He would fly 58 missions and be awarded the Navy’s Distinguished Flying Cross. On the last of these missions, on Sept. 2, 1944, his plane was shot down. His other two crewmen did not survive, but Bush was rescued by a U.S. submarine after floating for hours in the ocean.
He recounted his struggles while awaiting rescue: He vomited sea water, worried about sharks and Japanese patrol boats, cried while thinking of home, and agonized over whether he’d done all he could for his comrades in the ditched plane — a feeling that never entirely went away. But the frustrated tears of a downed combat pilot are not exactly what come to mind when one thinks of the word “wimp.”
“That’s an awful word to use — and we used it on the cover of Newsweek,” Evan Thomas, a former star writer at the magazine, conceded after Poppy Bush had left the White House. “It was too harsh a word.”