NEW ORLEANS (press release) – The National WWII Museum in New Orleans dedicated the George H.W. Bush Aviation Gallery, featuring a collection of six fully restored, iconic WWII aircraft suspended in the airspace of US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. Originally opened in 2013, the gallery now serves as a prominent and lasting tribute to WWII veteran and former President Bush, thanks to a generous $3 million commitment from the Hildebrand Foundation.

“My grandfather was a humble man who, like most WWII veterans, believed he just answered the call and did his job,” said Pierce Bush, grandson of President Bush. “The war shaped him in every way imaginable and affirmed his American values. Naming the gallery after my grandfather is a great honor for our family. The Hildebrands are good, generous, kind people who maintain the same ideals of my grandfather and believe in empowering others. We are grateful for their gift to dedicate the gallery in his honor.”

Among the aircraft on dramatic display in the George H.W. Bush Aviation Gallery is a General Motors TBM Avenger like the one Bush flew as one of the youngest pilots in the US Navy during World War II. While fighting off the Japanese island of Chichijima on September 2, 1944, Bush was the only survivor after his aircraft was shot down by enemy fire. He survived for hours in the ocean until he was rescued by an American submarine. He ultimately flew 58 combat missions, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals before he was honorably discharged in September 1945. Through the generous donation from the Hildebrand Foundation started by Jeffery and Mindy Hildebrand of Houston, Texas, and with the support of the Bush family, the story of George H.W. Bush’s service to our country in World War II and as the 41st President of United States will now be shared with Museum visitors through a prominent tribute plaque and a legacy video that will be shown on loop several times each day on the pavilion’s three large-scale LED screens.

“It is a true privilege and honor for the Hildebrand Foundation to support The National WWII Museum,” said Jeffery Hildebrand. “The George H.W. Bush Aviation Gallery is a fitting tribute to the 41st President of the United States, a man that considered his service not just a duty, but moreover an honor to his country.”

Throughout his distinguished service to our country as a former US representative, vice president, president and diplomat, Bush remained dedicated to the values of the WWII generation and was an early champion of The National WWII Museum. The Museum’s bond with President Bush dates to the early 1990s, when Bush agreed to serve on an honorary board of national figures supporting the initial development of the Museum. The vision of University of New Orleans professors Dr. Stephen Ambrose and Dr. Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller to build such an institution was years away from being realized, and the imprimatur of a former US president — and US Navy WWII combat veteran — was a powerful endorsement.

In April 1999, Bush visited the Museum — still a Warehouse District construction zone — at Ambrose’s request, and he later attended the grand opening of the Museum’s D-Day Invasions in the Pacificexhibit in December 2001. “We live in a different era,” he said in his remarks, “but I think ‘duty, honor, country’ still prevail.” He returned to speak at the memorial service for Ambrose after his passing in October 2002, and in 2007, Bush received the American Spirit Award, the Museum’s highest honor, at a ceremony in Houston hosted by former US Secretary of Commerce Robert Mosbacher. In addition to his work on behalf of The National WWII Museum, Bush also accepted the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in New Orleans in 1988 and partnered with President Bill Clinton to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief.

“We are deeply honored to recognize President Bush for his lifetime of service to our country as a decorated WWII veteran and dedicated public servant,” said Stephen J. Watson, President and CEO of The National WWII Museum. “I am grateful to Jeffery and Mindy Hildebrand and the entire Hildebrand Foundation for making this fitting tribute possible and supporting the growth of our educational mission. The George H.W. Bush Aviation Gallery stands as a powerful reminder of the enormous effort of the millions of men and women who served in uniform and those who supported our military by producing the planes, ships and tanks that helped the Allied forces deliver victory.” 

The George H.W. Bush Aviation Gallery is one of the Museum’s most striking and awe-inspiring displays. Located in the airspace of the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, the gallery features a fleet of warbirds that proved vital to the American war effort, including a B-17E Flying Fortress, B-25J Mitchell, SBD-3 Dauntless, P-51D Mustang and Corsair F4U-4. The aircraft are dramatically suspended from the ceiling with three tiers of viewing, offering a close-up look at America’s ultimate air superiority during World War II. 

Visitors to the George H.W. Bush Aviation Gallery have the opportunity to not only view the aircraft on display but also learn the stories of the pilots and units who flew them during World War II, including:

  • the Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress My Gal Sal, recovered and restored 50 years after making an emergency landing on a Greenland ice cap [Gift of The Boeing Company and the Ready Family]
  • a North American B-25J Mitchell, painted like those flown by Major Paul Irvin “Pappy” Gunn and the 490th Bombardment Squadron, also known as the “Burma Bridge Busters”
  • a Vought Corsair F4U-4, painted with the markings of Marine Fighting Squadron 214, known as the “Black Sheep Squadron,” commanded by Gregory “Pappy” Boyington [Gift of Pratt & Whitney]
  • a North American P-51D Mustang, painted with the markings of Captain Roscoe C. Brown Jr. with the 100th Fighter Squadron in the 332nd Fighter Group, known as the Tuskegee Airmen [Gift of the Ricketts Family]
  • a Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless, flown during the Guadalcanal Campaign and later lost on a training flight in Lake Michigan until it was recovered in 1990 [On loan courtesy of The National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida; Funding support from Madlyn and Paul Hilliard]
  • a General Motors TBM Avenger, painted with the markings of the “Bayou Bomber” flown by Lt. Thomas C. Lupo [Gift of Alvena and “Commodore” Thomas J. Lupo]

The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world — why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today — so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National WWII Museum, the institution celebrates the American spirit, teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifices of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and served on the Home Front. For more information on Tripadvisor’s #1 New Orleans attraction, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit nationalww2museum.org.