When Character Counts

This week, two great Americans were laid to rest:  Former President George H.W. Bush and Andy Fitzgerald.  Both men shared core convictions:  Service above self and humility.

Today I watched President Bush’s funeral, televised from the National Cathedral.  His accomplishments were great.  But what made him a great man, was a sweet mixture of compassion for others, humor and a desire to deflect attention from himself.  An odd trait for a politician who accomplished so much.

A young George H.W. Bush as a Navy Pilot.

As a young man he served as a decorated combat pilot during WW II.  In one memorable encounter his plane was shot down.  His two fellow crewman didn’t survive.  For the rest of his life, he honored their memory by serving others.


Andy Fitzgerald is not as well-known.  He too served in the military.  In the early 1950’s he was stationed at a Coast Guard Station off of Chatham, Cape Cod.

On February 18, 1952, the Pendleton – a 503 foot oil tanker – broke in two about 6 miles off Chatham. In nighttime blizzard conditions, Fitzgerald and three others set off in a 36-foot boat and did the seemingly impossible: rescue 32 men off the Pendleton and make it back to shore.  A 36 foot boat, with a capacity for eight, carried the entire crew to safety.

Andy Fitzgerald, age 84, upon the commissioning of the Bernard C. Webber, the first of a new class of rapid response cutters. Named after Bernard Webber who commanded the rescue.

Mr. Fitzgerald was the last surviving member of the rescue crew that was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal, the Coast Guard’s highest honor.  A book was written and a movie in 2016 was made of their story: “The Finest Hours”.  http://time.com/4197131/the-finest-hours-true-story

Andy’s wife, Gloria said: “He doesn’t consider himself a hero to this day.”  He’d say, ‘it was three hours of work that we were supposed to do.’

President Bush and Guardsman Fitzgerald, serve as an antidote to the toxic and polarized political culture of our time.  In contrast to the polarizing and self serving traits of some of today’s political leaders, we need look no further than George and Andy for guidance.

Their values show us the way forward.  Their character traits offer a self correction for us as neighbors and citizens.  Thank you George H.W. Bush and Andy Fitzgerald.  We as a nation, are forever in your debt.

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