NORFOLK (NNS) -- As U.S. Navy Sailors they fought together in the Pacific in the darkest days of World War II, and returned to ranks six decades later to honor one of their own, former President George H.W. Bush.
Dozens of the former naval aviator's shipmates aboard USS San Jacinto (CVL 30) attended the commissioning of USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) on Jan. 10 which coincided with a reunion among the former Sailors.
John J. Raquepau, 85, of St. Petersburg, Fla., was a TBM Avenger pilot aboard the ship and flew with Bush into battle.
"We were together every day," said Raquepau, who's remained a friend for life with Bush. "We hardly missed a day we didn't do some kind of flight."
The naming of the tenth and final nuclear-powered, Nimitz-class aircraft carrier for the former commander-in-chief was appropriate, he said. Bush is the only former president to attend a commissioning of a carrier in his name.
"He earned it very well," Raquepau said. "One year in combat, that's a hell of a long time."
Betty Lou Horan, 83, represented her late husband, Arthur L. Horan, who served as a tail gunner in one of the old ship's squadrons.
"This especially is very meaningful," she said, sitting next to the massive warship bedecked in colorful flags and banners under blue skies after her trip with family from Bethel, Conn.
Raymond S. Hume, 85, who wore the group's trademark black cowboy hat with the San Jacinto's name emblazoned on it, made the trek from Clinton, Iowa.
"I've been to every one of these," Hume said. "I couldn't miss this one."
His son, Mark R. Hume, vowed to keep bringing his father to honor his service.
"As long as he can make it to these ship reunions we're going to make it," said Hume, of Johnsburg, Ill.
Thomas R. Yeoman, 87, of Irmo, S.C., said the group once met with their past shipmate, George H.W. Bush, under the wing of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base while he was president.
It was a memorable reunion, as was this, he said.
"We're all getting older," he said "Every reunion there are fewer of us."
The former president remembered his old ship fondly and marveled at the size and complexity of the new one to carry his name. He said he wished more of his former shipmates could have witnessed the commissioning.
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