Former George H.W. Bush Speechwriter on Why the President Was Shy About Talking About His World War II Service in Public

I joined the Bush-Quayle presidential campaign in the summer of 1988 when I was 25, writing something called the “line of the day”—a one-page memo of catchy facts, stats, anecdotes on whatever the topic of the day was. Once we arrived at the White House, I began ghostwriting magazine articles by the President. I would send him questionnaires through intraoffice mail and he’d handwrite his answers. It was like having a pen pal. I worked my way up to doing more junior speechwriting stuff, like the turkey pardoning and statements of congratulations to spelling-bee winners. The more I wrote for him, the more I learned his style. He didn’t like to talk about himself much. If we used the word “I” too much he’d circle it, to mean “too many.” He felt that in a democracy the President should use the word “We.”

That’s probably why he was generally extremely reticent to talk about his World War II experience.

The most memorable speechwriting experience I had with him was writing a speech to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1991.

One night at about 6 o’clock in the Oval Office, before the anniversary, we started talking about what his memories were of the day he heard about Pearl Harbor. Despite his father’s objections, he went to sign up for the Navy and got turned away because he was only 17. He showed back up on June 9, 1942, a few days before his 18th birthday and

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