Our country is saddened by the passing of former President George H.W. Bush. President Bush will always be remembered as a man who dedicated his life to public service. While many have written about him, I was fortunate enough to have met the man on many occasions and I count his friendship as one of the great blessings in my life. The man I knew was understated, dignified and prudent. He was the consummate family man, his wonderful marriage to Barbara for 73 years is testament to that. As the patriarch of the family he instilled values, respect and patriotism into his children and grandchildren.
His bravery as a pilot during World War II was only the beginning of his storied career. I challenge anyone to call him a “wimp” after the courage he displayed after flying 58 combat missions and being shot down in the Pacific theater. He was rescued successfully, but eight other aviators in his squadron were captured, killed and cannibalized by the enemy. Facing down those kinds of odds is true bravery, especially when he could have avoided that war altogether due to his enrollment at Yale.
I became acquainted with President Bush through his daughter, Doro. I was introduced to him while he was vice president under President Reagan. I was so impressed during our first meeting; he listened carefully and gave me advice and support with my congressional campaign. I lost by a few hundred votes, but I tried to emulate the practices and the principles President Bush taught me.
A few years later in 1988, as a repayment for the kindness President Bush showed me, I volunteered on his campaign. He was always very gracious and thanked me for supporting him. He was humble and treated everyone working for him fairly, from a college intern, to a volunteer to key personnel. I was struck by the way he balanced modesty with effective leadership. While understated, he could command a room and make prudent decisions quickly. In 1989, he invited me to the Oval Office and honored me by naming me co-chairman of the National Crime Commission.
He doesn’t get enough credit for how well he handled the break-up of the Soviet Union. He guided our country through a time of global upheaval and successfully navigated the United States into a unipolar global system. With the Soviet Union’s disintegration, there was great potential for danger — disaffected troops, a nuclear arsenal of over 20,000 weapons and mass civil unrest were all possible flashpoints. Due to President Bush’s great leadership, the transition went relatively smoothly.
His good judgment was also evident in Desert Storm. He worked hard to complete the mission quickly, successfully and with minimal American losses.
A key point Bush sometimes gets flack for is when he “broke” is campaign promise by raising taxes. He was not afraid to compromise and do the right thing for the country, even though it was political suicide. That shows what kind of patriot he really was.
The last time I met with President Bush was a few years ago for breakfast at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel. I was able to see a man in the autumn of his life. In his post-presidency, President Bush was able to quietly remain a statesman and represented our country in charitable endeavors. He never lost his warmth and humor. While sitting at the breakfast table, I asked him if he was happy with the direction our country was going with President Obama in office.
He stopped me mid-sentence to say, “Politics is politics, but America is our country and we have to support our country no matter what.” That is the memory of George H.W. Bush that I will always remember and cherish. Words to live by.
Richard “Bo” Dietl (@BoDietl) was a New York City police officer and detective for 16 years. He served as co-chairman of the National Crime Commission under President George H.W. Bush and chairman of the New York State Security Guard Advisory Council under Govs. George Pataki and Elliot Spitzer. Since 1985 he has been CEO of Beau Dietl & Associates, an investigative and security firm.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.