COLLEGE STATION — More than a dozen grandchildren of George H.W. and Barbara Bush hoped to celebrate the couple’s 94th and 95th birthdays as the former president would have liked — by jumping from an airplane.
George H.W. Bush, a former aviator, enjoyed skydiving later in life, and made jumps on his 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays. His extended family returned on Saturday to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Texas A&M University for the first time since the patriarch’s funeral in December.
Though high winds forced the family to cancel the planned jump, the group visited the gravesite of the former president and first lady, both of whom died in 2018 and are interred behind the library.
U.S. Army Chaplain Lt. Col. Benjie Bender led a brief ceremony at the site. In the mid-June humidity, a soldier played taps and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush accepted a flag on behalf of the family.
Afterward, the Bushes prepared to travel to Easterwood Airport, adjacent to campus. They recalled how the president, who flew more than 50 combat missions during World War II, later took up skydiving as a hobby.
“We miss him a lot, and I know him and my grandmother are looking down from heaven,” said Jeb Bush, Jr. the son of the former Florida governor for whom he is named. “My grandmother might not be too happy about all of us jumping out of a plane, but by grandfather, smiling, wishes he was here.”
Lauren Bush Lauren, a Houston native, recalled how skydiving became a family tradition. She joined her grandfather 15 years ago for his 80th birthday jump.
“He would have been the first out,” she said. “He was so fearless in that way.”
Strong winds delayed the jumps, which were scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Before noon, five skydiving instructors made a test jump from 10,000 feet to gauge how much of a hazard the wind presented. Only one landed in the drop zone, a field south of the library. The rest were forced to improvise; two landed in the parking lot nearby, including one who narrowly missed parked vehicles.
Instructor Lt. Col. Kane Mansir said he realized immediately when he deployed his parachute at 3,500 feet he would be unable to reach the drop zone. He made a running landing near the parking lot.
“I knew I was not going to safely make it with the altitude I had left, because I was fighting the wind coming in,” Mansir said.
With a windy forecast the rest of the afternoon, the skydivers canceled the Bush family’s tandem jumps, determining the conditions to be too dangerous.
The day concluded with an exhibition by the All Veterans Group, led by retired Sgt. Mike Elliott, a former member of the Golden Knights U.S. Army parachute team. The former president trusted Elliott as his tandem jump partner from 2007 until his death.
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