Ex-President Bush talks of volunteering — and broccoli

Posted: July 18, 2007

On his visit to Philadelphia today, former President George H.W. Bush did a lot of reminiscing.

At the National Constitution Center, he talked about one of the pivotal days of his life: Sept. 2, 1944, when he was shot down in the North Pacific during World War II and was then rescued by the crew of the U.S.S. Finback, a Navy submarine.

And at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, speaking to a conference on volunteerism, Bush recalled one of the least significant yet most remembered comments of his presidency: his attack on a certain green vegetable.

The occasion for Bush's wartime reminiscences was the return of the service pistol he had carried with him when he was shot down over Chichi Jima, 600 miles south of Japan.

For nearly 63 years, the gun has been in the possession of the Brostrom family. Bush had given it as a token of thanks to Lt. J.G. Albert Brostrom, who welcomed him to the submarine and whose bunk he shared for a month.

Albert Brostrom died in 1982. About a year ago, after finding the pistol buried among his things, the family contacted Bush's office about giving it back. It felt like the right thing to do.

"Getting Dad to talk about the war - to say it was like pulling teeth would be putting it mildly," said son Ronald Brostrom, 59, a retired businessman from Chester Springs. "But he always spoke fondly of the young lieutenant [Bush], his sense of humor, his kindness and his courage."

With Bush now serving as chairman of the Constitution Center, and with the center eager to add a meaningful Bush artifact to its collection, an arrangement was made.

Today, Ronald Brostrom gave Bush the gun, its holster, and the plastic pouch designed to protect it from the elements. Then Bush presented all three to the center.

First, though, after checking to make sure the gun was not loaded, Bush handed the empty 38-caliber, Smith & Wesson pistol to 6-year-old Harrison Malone of Media, who held it briefly before giving it back. Harrison was one of about 30 children from the Constitution Center's American Adventure Summer Camp to attend the ceremony.

Bush, 83, told the story of being shot down in a matter-of-fact way.

"There wasn't anything really heroic about it," he said. "My point is in life you've got to do your duty, you've got to serve with honor, you've got to do what's right."

Earlier, the former president spoke to the National Conference on Volunteering and Service.

The event was cosponsored by the Points of Light Foundation, an organization that stemmed from his longtime support for volunteerism; in several speeches as candidate and president, he spoke memorably of volunteers as "a thousand points of light."

Bush, who has been involved with the foundation for years, came to reaffirm the value of community service, congratulate the winners of awards given to companies that encourage service, and put in a few kind words for corporate America.

"A few years ago, it was very much in vogue to beat on the business community." Bush said. " . . . But days like today show why such cynicism was misguided and wholly unfounded, in my view."

His famous 1989 vegetable attack - "I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm president of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli" - came up in a strange way.

One of today's award recipients was the American Automobile Association of Northern California, Nevada and Utah. In 1989, the family of the CEO of that organization, James Pouliot, had 2,000 acres of broccoli in the field.

In a comic deadpan, Pouliot said that he remembered what Bush had said.

Apparently, the former president remains no broccoli fan. He recalled that broccoli growers, upon hearing his words, sent two trucks of the stuff to the White House.

Knowing it would go uneaten, Barbara Bush sent it off to Washington's homeless.

Bush said this prompted White House Chief of Staff John Sununu to quip:

"Why do you think they left home in the first place?"


Contact senior writer Larry Eichel at 215-854-2415 or leichel@phillynews.com.

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