George H.W. Bush was a frequent visitor to Annapolis

rhutzell@capgaznews.com

George. H.W. Bush came to Annapolis several times, delivering commencement addresses to the Naval Academy graduating class, cruising the Severn River with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and even getting a Maryland tie.

It was during that final commencement address that retired state Sen. John Astle got a chance to meet the president.

A former Marine Corps pilot who flew Richard Nixon’s presidential helicopter, Astle was part of a delegation that greeted Bush when he landed aboard Marine Corps One at the academy on May 27, 1992.

“We’re all lined up, they’ve got the red carpet out and here comes the president with this hat with his Navy wings on it,” Astle recalled.

Astle, who served two tours in Vietnam, introduced himself and remarked on the wings and that he and Bush had served as naval aviators. Bush was shot down in the Pacific during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

The president moved down the reception line and was ready to get in his limousine when he turned for a final comment to Astle.

“Hey, John, why don’t you take it for a spin while I’m gone?” Astle recalled the president saying. “Just have it back by the time I’m done.”

Bush would go on to congratulate the 1,008 members of the Class of 1992 for beating Army — with a prank.

“And now, the real reason I came here today. I just wanted to salute the class that finally captured the Army Mules,” he said.

The president went on to talk about the reduced threat of nuclear war thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union, warning that the United States still faced threats.

He pointed to ethnic violence in the nations of the former Soviet Union, and to the continued reign of Saddam Hussein in Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait as he used the speech to pitch for a multibillion-dollar aid package for the republics and for continued strategic efforts.

“Never in the long history of man has the world been a benign place,” he warned.

Six months later, Bush carried Anne Arundel and 18 other counties in Maryland; a heavy turnout for Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore handed Maryland to the Democrat.

Clinton won the state with 50 percent of votes cast to 36 percent for Bush, and 14 percent for independent candidate H. Ross Perot, a Naval Academy graduate.

It was the same way four years earlier when Bush beat Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

Bush visited Annapolis several times while serving as vice president under Ronald Reagan.

He appeared before the General Assembly in January 1984 for the 200th anniversary of the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, then speaker of the House of Delegates, was surprised by the vice president’s decision to whip off his tie to replace it with a Maryland tie given to him after his address to the joint session of the House and Senate.

“America has lost a true public servant and a statesman. He understood the meaning of sacrifice and the need to put country before self,” Cardin said in a statement released by his office.

“You did not have to agree with President George H.W. Bush to respect him and his love for our country. My condolences go out to his family.”

Bush addressed the commissioning ceremony twice while vice president, speaking to the mids and their families in 1981 and 1987.

Flags were flying at half-staff at the second event, coming less than a week after 37 sailors were killed and more injured in an attack on the guided-missile frigate USS Stark in the Persian Gulf.

Bush praised the Stark victims’ devotion to duty and told the young officers that they were entering a world marked by intense political, economic and military competition with the Soviet Union.

“We face an adversary that considers our decency and democratic values as weakness,” Bush said. “To them, struggle, violence and power over others is vital to success. The modern Soviet regime has been ideologically driven to expand its global reach, not shrinking from the use or threat of force.”

His final visit to the city may have been in June 1992, when he and Russian President Boris Yeltsin took a break from their first summit in Washington to cruise the Severn River.

They were joined by Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

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