Forty years ago, a 23-year-old fighter pilot from Ogden, Utah, lay in a hospital bed with his plans for the future shattered along with the spine he had broken in three places.
He had planned to spend his military career soaring in airplanes when he became a pilot after graduation from West Point two years earlier. But while on a training mission in 1949, his P-51 Mustang lost power. A forced landing left him injured severely. The young pilot would be in hospitals for two years, and was forced to find a new career direction.Brent Scowcroft decided to work in international affairs for the Air Force. It was a good choice, and helped him eventually earn the rank of lieutenant general.
And now that career path will find him working with another former fighter pilot, President-elect George Bush. Scowcroft will be his national security adviser, the same position he held with Gerald Ford.
The Washington Post said that of all the top officials in the Bush Administration - including incoming Secretary of State James Baker III - only the president-elect himself may rival the experience of Scowcroft.
And Scowcroft was once even Bush's boss within that realm. Bush, at that time, would report intelligence gathered by the CIA to Scowcroft, who as Ford's national security adviser, would make policy recommendations to the president.
Bush said the CIA stayed "out of the policy business" then, and he wants that model to continue under his administration - even though the CIA will give him daily briefings. Meanwhile, Bush has promised Scowcroft 24-hour-a-day access to him.
All of that should make Scowcroft one of the most powerful molders of international policy in the world.
Scowcroft's climb to such a position of power started with his climb out of the hospital bed after his airplane crash.
He obtained a master's degree in international relations from Columbia University; taught Soviet history at West Point; served as an air attache at the U.S. Embassy in Yugoslavia; taught political science at the Air Force Academy; and received a doctorate in international relations from Columbia in 1967.
He then served in several foreign-policy related posts in the Pentagon, including special assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In November, 1971, Richard Nixon appointed then-colonel Scowcroft to be his White House military aide. In that job, he accompanied Nixon to China and led the advance team for Nixon's May, 1972 visit to the Soviet Union.
An incident while holding that job impressed Henry Kissinger, who was then Nixon's national security adviser, and made him decide to hire Scowcroft as his own aide to replace Alexander Haig Jr.
Kissinger said, "I saw Scowcroft stand up to (Nixon chief of staff H.R.) Haldeman at the height of Haldeman's power." He said at that moment he knew he found the "person with character and ability" that he sought. "It was one of the best decisions I ever made."
When Kissinger became Secretary of State, Scowcroft replaced him as national security adviser.
After leaving the government and military after the Ford administration, Scowcroft became a Washington consultant. But he has remained active as a presidential adviser during the Carter and Reagan administrations.
For example, he was chairman of the Presidential Commission on Strategic Forces (usually called the Scowcroft Commission). He was also a member of the three-man presidential commission headed by former Sen. John Tower to investigate the Iran-Contra scandal.
Some of his recommendations in recent years have run against the Reagan Administration. For example, he has criticized the "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative.
But Scowcroft's candor and ability as an "honest broker" among agencies were among the characteristics Bush sought.
And after all, Bush was also a fighter pilot - and he also crashed once after sustaining heavy damage from Japanese fire.