The Bush family has left an indelible mark on American politics, stretching back four generations to when Prescott Bush represented Connecticut in the US Senate.
In the decades since, the Bush family has produced two presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush; the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush; and the current Texas land commissioner, Jeb Bush’s son George P. Bush.
From their blue-blooded start in politics to the personal tragedies that shaped them, here are five things you may not know about this famously secretive family.
George H.W. Bush’s daughter Robin died as a toddler
While George W. and Jeb are public figures, their siblings Neil, Marvin and Dorothy have mostly managed to stay out of the spotlight. Even if they’re not household names, anyone who has followed the Bush family is likely aware of their existence.
However, there was a sixth Bush sibling. Born on December 20, 1949, Pauline Robinson “Robin” Bush came several years after brother George.
Unfortunately, she would not live long enough to see her 4th birthday.
In March 1953, a month after Jeb was born, the Bush family received the devastating news that Robin had leukemia. A local doctor told the Bushes that doctors had never seen a white blood cell count that high and there was nothing they could do for her.
Doctors said Robin Bush only had a few weeks left to live.
Determined to fight, George and Barbara took Robin to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York to undergo experimental cancer treatment. She lived for six months.
Robin’s death was devastating for the family, and George and Barbara would always say that she was the first person they would see when they got to heaven. Both are buried next to Robin at the Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.
The Bush family included three generations of college cheerleaders
George H.W. Bush was an accomplished baseball player. He played in the first two College World Series tournaments, and he met baseball legend Babe Ruth as a player at Yale.
However, even with his prowess on the field, he was a team player. Following in the footsteps of his father, Prescott, George H.W. was also a cheerleader while at Yale.
Keeping the family tradition alive, George W. Bush served as the head cheerleader as a high school senior at Phillips Academy and kept cheering while at Yale.
George H.W. Bush narrowly escaped a horrifying fate during WWII
After learning about the attack on Pearl Harbor, George H.W. Bush was intent on serving. In 1942, he enlisted in the US Navy to train as a pilot the same day he graduated from high school, and nearly a year later he became the youngest pilot in the Navy at the time.
By the fall of 1944, he had flown in more than 50 combat missions.
On September 2, 1944, he flew his most dangerous mission — one that he would never forget. While on a bombing run to Chichi Jima island, his plane was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire. After escaping and parachuting into the ocean, he found a life raft and paddled against the tide taking him toward Japanese-occupied territory.
Luckily for him, a US submarine that was in the area, the USS Finback, spotted him and saved him from certain death.
Of the nine US airmen who escaped from their planes that day, Bush was the only one to evade capture and the horrible fate that awaited them. It was discovered that the captured servicemen were beaten, tortured and executed. Several of those unfortunate airmen also had parts of their bodies cooked and fed to Japanese officers.
George W. Bush quit alcohol cold turkey after his 40th birthday
George W. Bush has been sober for several decades, but his reputation for drinking and partying is legendary. As a younger man, he had run-ins with the law that stemmed from his drinking, and he was known for drinking what he called “the four B’s” – beer, bourbon and B&B liqueur – sometimes all in one sitting.
However, that all changed after his 40th birthday.
During a trip to Colorado Springs to celebrate his birthday with family and friends, George W. had one too many drinks and woke up the next morning with a really bad hangover. He went for his morning jog and had to stop in the middle of it because of his hangover, which is not something he had done before.
While there were other factors at play, this was the final straw that made him realize it was time to quit. It was not easy, but he quit alcohol cold turkey that day and has not had a drop since.
“God’s work within me began in earnest with Billy’s outreach,” Bush wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about American evangelist Billy Graham. “His care and his teachings were the real beginning of my faith walk — and the start of the end of my drinking. I couldn’t have given up alcohol on my own. But in 1986, at 40, I finally found the strength to quit. That strength came from love I had felt from my earliest days and from faith I didn’t fully discover until my later years.”
George H.W. Bush went skydiving to celebrate his 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays
George H.W. Bush certainly was not afraid of heights. A former Navy pilot, he flew dozens of missions and logged countless hours in the air.
So, it should come as no surprise that the former pilot celebrated his 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays by skydiving.
While his first jump wasn’t under the most ideal conditions, as he was forced to bail from a burning airplane during a combat mission in WWII as he jumped to safety, he would go on to (voluntarily) jump out of planes seven more times.
His eighth and final jump came on his 90th birthday. With the help of an ex-military jumper, he landed near his home in Kennebunkport, Maine, with members of his family waiting on the ground for him.