Navy performs unprecedented 21-jet flyover to honor former president

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KWTX) U.S. Navy pilots Thursday performed an unprecedented flyover above the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the Texas A&M University campus in honor of the 41st president, who was one of the youngest pilots in Navy history.

Capt. Kevin McLaughlin, commodore of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic, is leading the mission. (U.S. Navy photo)

The flyover came just before a private burial service on the library grounds after a day of tributes beginning with a funeral service in Houston.

Bush was also honored with a 21-cannon salute and the sounding of "Taps."

Bush, who died at his home in Houston Friday at the age of 94, enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve on his 18th birthday on June 13, 1942.

He was commissioned as an ensign on June 9, 1943 and in September 1943 was assigned to Torpedo Squadron (VT-51) as photographic officer.

As part of Air Group 51, his squadron was based on USS San Jacinto.

On Sept. 2, 1944 fire from Japanese anti-aircraft guns struck Bush’s torpedo bomber, forcing him to bail out of the burning plane over the ocean.

He was rescued by a submarine crew and was presented with a Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery.

The F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets from Naval Air Station Oceana left Virginia Beach, Va., Tuesday en route to Texas.

Capt. Kevin McLaughlin, commodore of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic, led the mission.

He joined the Navy during Bush's presidency.

"To be even a small part of this ceremony means a lot to me," he said on the flight line Tuesday before departing for Texas.

A traditional missing man fly-over is performed with four jets.

"A missing man fly-over is symbolic of the departure one of the members of our squadron, members of our air wing, and in this case, our Navy," McLaughlin said.

The flyover for Bush was much larger for good reason.

"Traditional honors for a head of state is a 21-gun salute. As Texas is landlocked obviously, there is no ability to put a ship near President Bush`s final resting place. The Navy elected to go with a 21-plane flyover which is especially meaningful being that President Bush had been a Naval Aviator," McLaughlin said.

The jet McLaughlin is flying to Texas was specially marked with the name of President Bush and his wife of 73 years, Barbara, painted on the cockpit and backseat.

That, coupled with the fly-over, is an honor the Navy says Bush has more than earned.

"[It's] a symbolic final farewell to a great man who left a tremendous legacy of selfless service to his nation and his family behind," Captain McLaughlin said.

NAS Oceana Squadrons that took part in the flyover

Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 103, the “Jolly Rogers”
VFA-143, the “Pukin’ Dogs"
VFA-32, the “Swordsmen”
VFA-83, the “Rampagers”
VFA-131, the “Wildcats”
VFA-105, the “Gunslingers”
VFA-31, the “Tomcatters”
VFA-87, the “GoldenWarriors"