Wednesday 19 December 2018

Thousands salute Bush funeral train 4141 on final Texas ride

It came after a week of remembrance in both Texas and Washington.

People pay their respects as the train carrying the casket of former President George HW Bush passes along the route from Spring to College Station, Texas (David J Phillip/AP)
People pay their respects as the train carrying the casket of former President George HW Bush passes along the route from Spring to College Station, Texas (David J Phillip/AP)

By Associated Press Reporters

Thousands waved and cheered along the route as funeral train No 4141 – for the 41st president – carried George HW Bush’s remains to their final resting place in Texas.

It was the former president’s last journey as a week of national remembrance took on a decidedly personal feel in an emotional home state farewell.

Some people laid coins along the tracks that wound through small town Texas so a 420,000-pound locomotive pulling the nation’s first funeral train in nearly half a century could crunch them into souvenirs.

Others snapped pictures or crowded for views so close that police helicopters overhead had to warn them back. Students hoisted a banner simply reading “THANK YOU”.

The scenes reminiscent of a bygone era followed the more sombre tone of a funeral service at a Houston church, where Mr Bush’s former secretary of state and confidant for decades, James Baker, addressed him as “jefe”, Spanish for “boss”,

At times choking back tears, Mr Baker praised Mr Bush as “a beautiful human being” who had “the courage of a warrior. But when the time came for prudence, he maintained the greater courage of a peacemaker.”

Mr Baker also offered Mr Bush as a contrast to today’s divisive, sometimes vitriolic politics, saying that his “wish for a kinder, gentler nation was not a cynical political slogan. It came honest and unguarded from his soul”.

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People pay their respects to former president George HW Bush in Texas (David J Phillip/AP)

“The world became a better place because George Bush occupied the White House for four years,” said Mr Baker.

As the post-funeral motorcade carrying Mr Bush’s remains later sped down a closed road from the church to the train station, construction workers on all levels of an unfinished building paused to watch.

Mr Bush’s body was later loaded on to a special train fitted with clear sides so people could catch a glimpse of the casket as it rumbled by.

The train travelled about 70 miles — the first presidential funeral train journey since Dwight D Eisenhower’s remains went from Washington to his native Kansas 49 years ago — to the family plot on the grounds of Mr Bush’s presidential library at Texas A&M University.

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A woman displays coins flattened by the memorial train carrying the casket of George HW Bush (Nomaan Merchant/AP)

Mr Bush’s final resting place is alongside his wife, Barbara, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukaemia aged three.

In the town of Pinehurst, 55-year-old Doug Allen left eight coins on the tracks before the train passed — three quarters, three dimes and two pennies. The train left the coins flattened and slightly discolored.

“It’s something we’ll always keep,” Mr Allen said.

Andy Gordon, 38, took his six-year-old daughter, Addison, out of school so she and her three-year-old sister, Ashtyn, could see the train pass.

“Hopefully, my children will remember the significance and the meaning of today,” Mr Gordon said. Addison was carrying two small American flags in her hand.

The train arrived in College Station in the late afternoon with a military band playing “Hail to the Chief” and then Texas A&M’s “Aggie War Hymn”.

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George W Bush embraces former Secretary of State James Baker after he gave a eulogy during the funeral for former president George HW Bush (David J Phillip/AP)

About 2,100 cadets in their tan dress uniforms with jackets and ties and knee-high boots waited for hours on a cold, grey day to line the road — known as Barbara Bush Drive — to the Bush library’s front doors.

The US Navy conducted a 21 strike fighter flyover, a salute to the Second World War Navy pilot, followed by a 21-gun cannon salute on the ground.

At the earlier service at Houston’s St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, where Bush and his family regularly worshipped, the choir sang This Is My Country, which was also sung at Mr Bush’s presidential inauguration in 1989.

Those gathered heard a prayer stressing the importance of service and selflessness that the president himself offered for the country at the start of his term.

There were rousing renditions of the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Onward Christian Soldiers, and also performances from some of Mr Bush’s country favourites.

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Firefighters stand on their truck and salute the train carrying the body of George HW Bush (Michael Wyke/AP)

The Oak Ridge Boys recalled playing for him for decades — sometimes at the White House — and joked that Mr Bush “fancied himself to be a good bass singer. He was not.” They then sang Amazing Grace, and Reba McEntire offered a musical version of The Lord’s Prayer.

Thursday’s flavor was distinctly Texan, unlike three days of Washington celebrations that had more of a national feel.

In place of most federal dignitaries were top Houston athletes including the NFL Texans’ defensive end JJ Watt — showing Mr Bush’s love for sports — and Chuck Norris, who played TV’s Walker, Texas Ranger.

Grandson George P Bush, the only member of the political dynasty still holding elected office, as Texas land commissioner, used his eulogy to praise the man the younger generations called “gampy”.

“He left a simple, yet profound legacy to his children, to his grandchildren and to his country: service,” George P Bush said.

The church’s pastor, the Rev Russell Levenson Jr, recalled the Bushes often attending services and offering to give up their seats to others on days when the church was particularly crowded.

“He was ready for heaven, and heaven was ready for him,” Mr Levenson said of Mr Bush who was in declining health in recent years.

The minister suggested that when the former president died, he met his wife of 73 years in heaven and Barbara Bush playfully demanded, “What took you so long?”

Press Association

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