Monday 23 September 2019

George HW Bush arrives home for Texas burial

After three days of remembrance in Washington, the former president’s casket left for a final service in Houston and burial.

Visitors pay their respects to the flag-draped casket of former president George HW Bush at St Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston (Mark Humphrey/AP)
Visitors pay their respects to the flag-draped casket of former president George HW Bush at St Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston (Mark Humphrey/AP)

By Associated Press Reporters

George HW Bush, who shaped history as 41st president and patriarch of a family that occupied the White House for a dozen years, is going to his final rest, in Texas.

The US said goodbye to him on Wednesday in a funeral service in Washington that offered high praise for the last of the presidents to have fought in the Second World War — and a hefty dose of humour about a man once described as a cross between Mister Rogers and John Wayne.

After three days of remembrance in Washington, a plane brought Mr Bush’s casket for his funeral’s closing ceremonies in Houston and burial on Thursday at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station.

His final resting place is alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukaemia aged three.

The flag-draped casket of former president George HW Bush is carried by a joint services military honour guard at Ellington Field in Houston (Eric Gay/AP)

As a motorcade subsequently carried Mr Bush’s remains to the family church, St Martin’s Episcopal, along a closed interstate, hundreds of people in stopped cars on the other side of the road, took pictures and shot mobile phone video.

One driver of a tanker truck climbed atop the hulking vehicle for a better view, and at least 15 firefighters scaled a pair of stopped firetrucks to salute.

Upon its arrival at the church, Mr Bush’s casket was met by a military band and Houston Democratic mayor Sylvester Turner.

Members of the clergy pray during the state funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP)

In the service at Washington National Cathedral, three former presidents and President Donald Trump looked on as George W Bush eulogised his father as “the brightest of a thousand points of light.”

The national funeral service at the cathedral was a tribute to a president, a patriarch and a faded political era that prized military service and public responsibility.

“He was a man of such great humility,” said Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming. Those who travel “the high road of humility in Washington, DC,” he added pointedly, “are not bothered by heavy traffic”.

Mr Trump sat with his wife, a trio of ex-presidents and their wives, several of the group sharp critics of his presidency and one of them, Hillary Clinton, his 2016 Democratic foe.

Apart from courteous nods and some handshakes, there was little interaction between Mr Trump and the others.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump sit with a trio of ex-presidents (Alex Brandon/AP)

George W Bush broke down briefly at the end of his eulogy while invoking the daughter his parents lost in 1953 and his mother, who died in April. He said he took comfort in knowing “Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again”.

The family occupied the White House for a dozen years — the 41st president defeated after one term, the 43rd serving two.

Jeb Bush stepped up to try to extend that run but fell short when Trump won the 2016 Republican primaries.

The elder Bush was “the last great-soldier statesman,” historian Jon Meacham said in his eulogy, “our shield” in dangerous times.

But he took a lighter tone, too, noting that Mr Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin.

Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply quipped, “Never know. Gotta ask.”

Bystanders video the hearse carrying the body of George HW Bush as it travels to St Martin Episcopal Church after returning from Washington DC (Michael Wyke/AP)

Mr Meacham recounted how comedian Dana Carvey once said the key to doing an impersonation of Bush was “Mr Rogers trying to be John Wayne”.

None of that would be a surprise to Mr Bush.

Mr Meacham had read his eulogy to him, said Mr Bush’s spokesman Jim McGrath, and Mr Bush responded to it with the crack: “That’s a lot about me, Jon.”

The congregation at the cathedral, filled with foreign leaders and diplomats, Americans of high office and others touched by Mr Bush’s life, rose for the arrival of the casket, accompanied by clergy of faiths from around the world.

In their row together, Mr Trump and former Presidents Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton stood with their spouses and all placed their hands over their hearts.

Mr Simpson regaled the congregation with stories from his years as Mr Bush’s friend in Washington.

More seriously, he recalled that when he went through a rough patch in the political game, Mr Bush conspicuously stood by him against the advice of aides. “You would have wanted him on your side,” he said.

Mr Simpson said Mr Bush “loved a good joke — the richer the better. And he threw his head back and gave that great laugh, but he never, ever could remember a punchline. And I mean never.”

Former president George W Bush touches the casket of his father at the state funeral (Alex Brandon/AP)

George W Bush turned the humour back on the acerbic ex-senator, saying of the late president: “He placed great value on a good joke, so he chose Simpson to speak.”

Mr Meacham praised Mr Bush’s call to volunteerism, placing his “1,000 points of light” alongside Abraham Lincoln’s call to honour “the better angels of our nature” in the American rhetorical canon.

Mr Meacham called those lines “companion verses in America’s national hymn”.

Mr Trump had mocked “1,000 points of light” last summer at a rally, saying: “What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? And it was put out by a Republican, wasn’t it?”

A military band played “Hail to the Chief” as Mr Bush’s casket was carried down the steps of the US Capitol, where he had lain in state.

Family members looked on as servicemen fired off a cannon salute.

George W Bush and family members arrive at Ellington Field in Houston (Eric Gay/AP)

His hearse was then driven in a motorcade to the cathedral ceremony, slowing in front of the White House, the route lined with people much of the way, bundled in winter hats and taking photos.

Mr Trump tweeted Wednesday that the day marked “a celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life”.

Mr Bush’s death makes Mr Carter, also 94 but more than 100 days younger, the oldest living ex-president.

Following the cathedral service, the hearse and its long motorcade drove to the National Mall to pass by the Second World War Memorial, a nod to the late president’s service as a Navy pilot, then transferred his remains at Joint Base Andrews for the flight home to Texas with members of his family.

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