In September 2011, during a celebration event honoring the 100th anniversary of the Mayo Clinic Department of Orthopedic Surgery, a seemingly innocent exchange between attendees — one of whom happened to be a former U.S. president — greased the wheels for a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the son of one Mayo orthopedic surgeon.
Leading up to the event, William Shaughnessy, M.D., had approached his friend and fellow orthopedic surgeon Bernard Morrey, M.D., to express his regret at being unable to attend the celebration. Dr. Shaughnessy knew that meant missing a chance to meet President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. They had accepted an invitation from Dr. Morrey to "swing through" Rochester. During the 100th anniversary celebration of the founding of the department, President and Mrs. Bush expressed "their appreciation to Mayo Clinic for the care Mayo had provided them for many years," Dr. Morrey tells us.
Dr. Shaughnessy's reason for not being there, he tells us, was because his Navy pilot son, Mike, was returning from a combat deployment aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. It turns out, Mike would be returning to the same Navy base in Virginia that President Bush had returned to following his own naval service during World War II. Dr. Shaughnessy and his late wife, Heidi, had plans to fly there and welcome Mike home in person.
When President Bush heard this story from Dr. Morrey, he asked for Mike's name and contact information. Dr. Shaughnessy tells us Mike called him "soon thereafter" to say he'd received a personal note of appreciation for his military service from the president. "It was a proud moment for a young naval aviator to receive that note," Dr. Shaughnessy says.
Mike continued his Navy career, not knowing that his life would once again intersect with the 41st president. But shortly after President Bush's death this past December, Mike – stationed at the same naval air station President Bush once was – was asked to fly one of the F/A-18 fighter jets the U.S. Navy sent to College Station, Texas, to perform a special "Missing Man" flyover during the president's funeral.
"Mike was honored to be asked to participate," Dr. Shaughnessy tells us. "Typical flyovers for funeral services such as those for Sen. John McCain involve a single four-plane formation, but for President Bush, an unprecedented 21-plane flyover was performed. This involved a single lead plane followed by five 'divisions,' or groups of four planes each. Mike led the third of five divisions."
Dr. Shaughnessy tells us that as he — and much of the nation — watched his son lead his division at a flyover speed of 300 miles per hour, an enormous feeling of pride washed over him. "Heidi and I have always been proud of Mike, but I'm particularly proud of his service to our country and of the two deployments he's made to the Middle East and Pacific," he says. "Mike has done and seen more in his short life than I could ever hope to. This was an amazing experience and tribute to an honorable man and naval aviator."
One that Mike told his dad he'll not soon forget. "He sent me a text when he landed," Dr. Shaughnessy says. "It said: 'Flight of a lifetime. Hearing the national anthem over the radio during the flyover was an experience beyond words.'"
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