Tears of Joy From the Former President and Sailors on USS George H.W. Bush

The sailors sang a boisterous version of "Happy Birthday" for the ex-president, who turns 85 tomorrow.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

Former President George H.W. Bush celebrates his birthday tomorrow in Kennebunkport, Maine, with another plunge from an aircraft, but the emotional visit to his namesake Navy ship last month with the "Happy Birthday" sailors sang to him is likely to stand out as the high point of his 85th birthday. Our Suzi Parker reports that Bush and daughter Doro Bush Koch made an unannounced visit to the newly commissioned USS George H.W. Bush on May 26 to watch flight operations and meet the sailors. Capt. Lee Mandel, the ship's senior medical officer, described the trip in an E-mail as an emotional and historic event.

Mandel wrote:

"Greetings all! On May 26, our namesake former President George H.W. Bush was helo-ed aboard for a one day visit. It had been his greatest wish to watch flight operations from the flight deck of our navy's newest nuclear powered aircraft carrier and to meet the Sailors. As a decorated former naval aviator in World War II, this has a special significance for him. He was accompanied by his daughter (and our ship's sponsor) 'Doro' Bush Koch. They observed flight ops from the flight deck and the bridge, dined with several senior officers in the Flag Mess (I was lucky enough to be there!) and watched night flight ops from the Flag Bridge."

Mandel says that "the E-mail was to a group of military colleagues, family, and friends. I enjoy capturing the historical moment of events like this and sharing with them."

The crew of 2,500 sailors sang "Happy Birthday" to the former prez, and Bush afterward swore in re-enlistees and read the promotion orders to the recently advanced sailors. Then he spoke to the crew and told them of the ship's significance to him. Mandel wrote:

"It was quite a moment—at the end of his short remarks, he looked up, paused for a second, and said 'This ship means the world to me...'And he then broke down for a few seconds. There wasn't a dry eye in the hangar bay. He then continued on and thanked every one of us for our service to the country and for making him proud as one of 'his' sailors. I first came into the Navy nearly 30 years ago, and I can't recall a more special moment that I've ever experienced. Shortly thereafter, President Bush was helo-ed off, back to Norfolk."

Mandel, a self-professed amateur historian, ended his E-mail with: "I believe this was the first time in U.S. Navy history that a ship's namesake (certainly an aircraft carrier) not only was alive at the time of commissioning, but was healthy enough to come on board when the ship was at sea."