Jenna Bush Hager paid tribute to her beloved grandfather and carried on a proud family tradition when she leaped out of an airplane from 10,000 feet live on TODAY Thursday.
The TODAY co-host paid homage to former President George H.W. Bush's love of skydiving and philosophy of living life to the fullest when she plummeted from the sky in a tandem jump with Sgt. 1st class Joseph Abeln of the Army's famed parachute team, the Golden Knights. The former president would have turned 97 on June 12.
Jenna was clearly nervous as the plane approached the jump zone, and could be heard asking herself, "Why did I say yes to this?!"
But she took the fear head-on, plunging out of the plane and into the clear Virginia skies. Incredibly, she remained in contact with the TODAY team back in Studio 1A the whole time.
"It feels like floating, but it's one of the most exhilarating, terrifying moments of your life," Jenna said, after her chute deployed and she and Abeln floated back down to Earth. "I feel close to all the people I've been missing."
"It's beautiful up there!" she added, still breathless from the big leap. "The view from up here is spectacular."
Jenna also honored the Army, which celebrated its 246th birthday on Monday. She landed on the grounds of the National Museum of the United States Army after taking off at Davison Army Airfield at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. The museum opened in March 2020 and had to close a few weeks later due to the pandemic, but has now celebrated its grand reopening this week.
After falling for around 2 miles, Jenna stuck the landing on a lawn on the grounds of the museum.
"I would do it again a thousand times," Jenna said.
This past Saturday would have been the 97th birthday for Jenna's grandfather, a military veteran who died at 94 in 2018. Birthdays often meant skydives for the late president, who celebrated his 75th, 80th, 85th and even his 90th birthday in 2014 by taking the leap with the help of the Golden Knights.
"One night at dinner that summer (of his 90th birthday) my Gampy, at the head of our robin’s-egg blue table, leaned over to me and whispered, 'Don’t forget to enjoy the game,'" Jenna wrote in an essay for TODAY about her jump.
"His voice was weak but he continued, 'Jenna, don’t be scared to be in the ring, and don’t forget to enjoy every moment — to live every moment. I miss being an active part of the game.'"
Bush completed eight skydives in his life, the first of which was involuntary. He was serving as a fighter pilot for the U.S. Navy in World War II when his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean on Sept. 2, 1944, when he was just 19 years old.
Bush parachuted into the water after bumping his head and tearing the canopy on the plane during the jump, which later motivated him to execute perfect skydives later in life. He was rescued by an American submarine after the other two members of his crew died.
"He told me once that he jumps for them," Jenna wrote about Bush's crew members. "He jumped because he lived."
Thursday was not Jenna's first time skydiving, either, as she executed her first jump when she was 18. On Thursday, she spent about 45 seconds in freefall, hurtling to the ground at 120 miles per hour, before her canopy opened.
"And so today, seven years after the last time he jumped, I jump for him," Jenna wrote. "And I will jump because I’m in the game, enjoying every moment, and feeling closer to him in the heavens."