Jenna Bush Hager is going to extreme heights to honor her late grandfather, former President George H.W. Bush. On Thursday, the Today show co-anchor flew to a height of 10,000 feet before leaping out of a plane, plummeting towards the earth at a speed of 120 miles per hour in a skydive that was broadcast live and continued her grandfather's tradition of skydiving on his birthday.
Paying homage to her grandfather's mantra – "don't forget to enjoy the game. Don't be scared to be in the ring, and don't forget to enjoy every moment — to live every moment," which he told her during the summer of his 90th birthday in 2014 – Hager recruited the help the Golden Knights, the Army's famed parachute team that Bush had previously jumped with. After skydiving in a tandem jump with Sgt. 1st class Joseph Abe-Lynn, Hager told her co-anchors back in Studio 1A, "It feels like floating, but it's one of the most exhilarating, terrifying moments of your life. I feel close to all the people I've been missing." She added that "the view from up here is spectacular," and said she would "do it again a thousand times."
Hager did not choose to skydive by chance, though. Skydiving had actually been a favorite pastime of her late grandfather, who completed a total of eight skydives in his life. His first came in September of 1944 when he was serving as a fighter pilot for the U.S. Navy in World War II at the age of 19. After his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean, he parachuted into the water, though he bumped his head and tore the canopy on the plane during the jump. Two other two members of his crew died, and Hager recalled in an essay for Today, "He told me once that he jumps for them. He jumped because he lived."
Over the next several decades of his life, the former president would continue to skydive, oftentimes taking the leap on his birthday. He celebrated his 75th, 80th, 85th and even his 90th birthdays by skydiving with the help of the Golden Knights. Hager took her leap "seven years after the last time he jumped," sharing, "I jump for him. And I will jump because I'm in the game, enjoying every moment, and feeling closer to him in the heavens."
The former president died on Nov. 30, 2018, at the age of 94, just months after the funeral of his wife of 73 years, former First Lady Barbara Bush. At the time of his passing, Hager said her grandfather "gave me everything. He taught me and my family about service, family, decency, the power of gentle words and a beautiful heart."