By Ted Scouten

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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – As America mourns the loss of former President George H.W. Bush, a South Florida naval air station is honoring his legacy.

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The 41st President had a decades-long relationship with South Florida, which started during his early days of service in the Navy.

At the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum, there is a room dedicated to Mr. Bush with items from his actual room from 1943 when the young ensign was stationed and trained at the Naval Air Station, which is now Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

“He was, at the time, the youngest navy pilot.  He earned his wings three days before his 19th birthday and he was here when he was 19,” said John Bloom, Director of the Museum.

The late President Bush did his training there to pilot the Avenger Torpedo Bomber.

Blood says Bush was in an Avenger when he was shot down in the South Pacific a year after leaving South Florida.

“As they were going down flames were, smoke was filling the cockpit,” he said. “Flames were coming out of the plane, but he was able to stay on course and drop his bombs.  He did hit his target and then he pulled out over the ocean to get away from the island as far as he could.  Banked, then he ended up bailing out,” Bloom explained.

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He never forgot his training there. When he was running for re-election, he came back signing a mural that was in his building.

“That was a beautiful day, very impressive to be able to stand next to him and shake his hand,” said Army Veteran Nels Pearson.  The 41st President made quite an impression on him.

“He was a true American, a man who was well respected by everyone, no matter what the race, creed or religion, political affiliation.”

Bloom never met the former president, but he is well aware of his military service, saying he leaves quite a legacy behind.

“It’s a big loss for the country,” he said. “We’re so proud to tell people he was here and his history being in Fort Lauderdale. He’s just such a great example for everybody.”

The Bush Room is at the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum.

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The museum is open Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.  It is located on the western end of Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport right off Perimeter Road.

Ted Scouten