A sweeping tribute to the late President George H.W. Bush captivated America and the world on Wednesday, with tributes from his family and friends who remember the gentleman statesman as a happy and optimistic man who sucked the marrow out of life.
His casket was the centerpiece for a once-in-a-generation funeral – at times both soul-searing and hilarious – as he journeyed toward his final resting place.
D.C.’s biggest bells tolled as pallbearers from every military DC escort service branch walked a somber cadence. Crosses and candles shared a procession with a single American flag. Alleluias rang out, led by a military chorus and the church’s own choir including children too young to have known any president named Bush.
Former President George W. Bush, the late leader’s most visible legacy, entered the cathedral last, taking his place with other family members in front pew across a well-worn aisle from President Donald Trump and every living former president.
He was seen fighting back tears at the Capitol as his father’s body left the building. A more stoic Bush stood at attention for his father along with more than 1,000 other black-clad Americans as eight men in dress uniforms walked a rehearsed cadence and gently placed the coffin at the altar.
A 21-gun salute, the week’s fourth, had rung out an hour earlier, booming over a quiet, damp Washington morning at the Capitol. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines saluted their former commander-in-chief. Mourners lined the streets. And dignitaries from all over the world were on hand to see him arrive at a house of God.
His stately cathedral memorial was held after a day and a half of lying in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, where Republicans and Democrats lined up for hours to pay their final respects.
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The casket of George H.W. Bush arrives in the National Cathedral in Washington DC on Wednesday in front of thousands of mourners who gathered to bid farewell to the 41st president
The casket of George H.W. Bush sits on the altar at the National Cathedral on Wednesday, draped in an American flag
The casket of former president George H.W. Bush is carried in to the National Cathedral in Washington DC on Wednesday
Historian Jon Meacham, author of a biography of the 41st president, said in the day’s first eulogy that the senior Bush was ‘America’s last great soldier-statesman, a 20th Century founding father.’
Former President George H.W. Bush died on Friday at home in Houston, Texas. He was 94
‘He stood in the breach in the cold war against totalitarianism. He stood in the breach in Washington against unthinking partisanship,’ Meacham said. ‘He stood in the breach against tyranny and discrimination.’
In a moment that could be interpreted as a jab at President Trump, seated just yards away, he said: ‘On his watch, a wall fell in Berlin.’
Meacham noted, too, Bush’s signature on the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying ‘doors across America opened’ to millions as a result.
Like George Washington, John Adams and Harry Truman, Meacham said, Bush ‘believed in causes larger than themselves.’
Meacham also made George W. Bush laugh.
Recalling the elder Bush campaigning furiously, he said the future president once grasped the hand of a mannequin by mistake.
All he wanted to do was hold mom’s hand again
‘He said: “Never know. Gotta ask”,’ Meachem deadpanned.
He quoted Saturday Night Live comedian Dana Carvey explaining his success portraying the then-president, saying it was ‘Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne.’
And chuckling along with the memory of ‘a loving man with a big, vibrant, all-enveloping heart,’ Meacham remembered Bush’s self-deprecation at his own malapropisms and awkward turns of phrase: ‘Fluency in English is not something I’m often accused of.’
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney praised Bush, a friend for decades, as a resolute and determined president whom foreign leaders respected.
‘Every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman, a genuine leader,’ he said.
George W. Bush fought tears as he delivered a touching tribute to his father on Wednesday, telling the congregation that he thought his father was ‘perfect’ and recalled how his final words on earth were, to him: ‘I love you too’
There were laughs among the tears as the first of several speakers gave glowing and emotional tributes to the former president
George W. Bush laughs along with his wife Laura as they listen to eulogies dedicated to his father at Wednesday’s DC escort service
In more somber moments of the DC escort service, former president George W. Bush struggled to contain his emotions
Jeb Bush laughs while his sister-in-law wipes a tear from her eye and former president George W. Bush smirks at them both as Jon Meacham, a journalist who penned George H.W. Bush’s biography, speaks
Jenna Bush Hager gives a reading at her grandfather George H.W. Bush’s funeral. She placed a loving hand on her grandfather’s casket as she made her way to the pulpit. She read Revelation 21:1-4; verses 6-7 and 23-25
Lauren Bush Lauren speaks as her sister, Ashley, stands behind her at the funeral of their grandfather George H.W. Bush. They are the daughter’s of Neil Bush. They read Isaiah 60: 1-5, verses 18-20
Brothers George W. Bush and his wife Barbara lead the funeral procession. They were followed by his brother Neil Bush with his wife Maria and former Florida governor Jeb Bush with his wife Columba
Barbara Bush (right) arrives with her brother-in-law Henry Chase Hager (center) and her twin sister Jenna (left) for the funeral
Before taking his seat in the first row, former president Georhe W. Bush greeted former presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and their wives and President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump
The National Cathedral was filled with some 3,000 mourners on Wednesday for the funeral of George H.W. Bush
A century from now, he declared, ‘it will be said that in the life of this country, the United States – which is in my judgment the greatest democratic republic that God has placed on this earth – I believe it will be said that no occupant of the Oval Office was more courageous, more principled and more honorable.’
But he also ‘had a delightful sense of humor and was a lot of fun.’
Remembering Bush’s first NATO meeting, he described a lengthy, plodding address by Iceland’s leader.
‘The smaller the country,’ Bush told him later, ‘the longer the speech.’
Retired Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, known as a jokester during his Washington years, had Bush the younger cracking broad grins and laughing.
He told a story that filled in a historical gap from the 1992 campaign, when George H.W. Bush was struggling amid low poll numbers and trying to save his hopes of a second term.
‘Remember Lincoln, going to his knees in times of trial and the Civil War and all that stuff?’ he asked a group of insurance workers in Dover, New Hampshire.
‘You can’t be. And we’re blessed. So don’t feel sorry for – don’t cry for me, Argentina!’
‘The press then wrote that he was finally losing his marbles,’ Simpson recalled, talking about bush’s sudden lapse into an Andrew Lloyd Webber lyric.
But he and Bush and their wives, he said, had attended a concert of Webber hits two nights earlier, and sang the ‘Evita’ tune all the way back to 1600 Avenue.
George W. Bush salutes his father’s casket as it arrives the National Cathedral on Wednesday after being driven from the Capitol
Former president George W. Bush and his wife Laura follow the casket of his father into the National Cathedral
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, holding hands with his wife Columba, comforts his brother, former president George W. Bush, outside the National Cathedral before their father’s funeral on Wednesday. Behind Columba is Neil Bush, their younger brother
President Donald Trump sat alongside three former Democratic presidents – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – a tribute to the man for whom they showed varying degrees of contempt and admiration while he was alive.
Trump has been consistently critical of the late Bush for his military adventurism and regime-change policies in the Persian Gulf and Panama, which he believes sacrificed too much American blood and treasure for minimal return.
He even mocked Bush’s Thousand Points of Light volunteerism program this summer, claiming his ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan provided a better, more aspirational vision.
But following Friday’s death of Bush at age 94, the current president treated Americans to a kinder, gentler Trump.
‘We lost a president who truly was a wonderful person, a wonderful man, a great man,’ he told reporters in Argentina during the G20 summit.
Thousands of people lined the streets of Washington DC to pay their respects as the funeral procession moved slowly past them
The hearse was driven slowly past the White House on its way to the National Cathedral from the US Capitol
More than 50,000 people lined the route of motorcade to pay their respects to George H.W. Bush on Wednesday morning
The mourners placed their hands over their hearts and held up signs as the motorcade drove past them
Mourners line the route of former president George H.W. Bush’s funeral procession on Wednesday
Laura and George W. Bush waved at the thousands who had lined the streets to pay their respects as they were driven from the Capitol to the National Cathedral
In a stolen moment of relative privacy on Wednesday, president George W. Bush shut his eyes as he followed his father’s casket to the National Cathedral
The flag draped casket bearing former president George H.W. Bush is removed from the Rotunda by US Air Force Honor Guardsmen on Wednesday ahead of his state funeral
Former president George W Bush and his wife Laura were at the Rotunda to greet his father’s casket as it was removed. The former president blinked back tears as his father’s casket was carried past him
George and Laura were joined by George HW Bush’s children. They then escorted it to the cathedral for the funeral. R-L: Marvin Bush and his wife Margaret, George W. and his wife Laura, Neil Bush and his wife Maria, Dorothy Bush Koch and her husband Bob, Jeb Bush and his wife Columba
Former president George W. Bush closed his eyes as he and his wife Laura along with his siblings saluted his father’s casket at the Capitol
On Wednesday he proclaimed the cathedral DC escort service ‘not a funeral, this is a day of celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life. He will be missed!’
Trump sat in the front row but didn’t offer a eulogy. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday that former President George W. Bush had ‘dibs.’
Other eulogists included Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming; Brian Mulroney, the former Canadian prime minister who also spoke at Ronald Reagan’s funeral; and presidential historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a Bush biography.
Clinton owed many of his successes to Bush’s groundwork, including a NATO expansion, Middle East peace talks and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which historians view as an impossibility without Bush’s optimistic cajoling in prior years.
Trump now views all three as failures of leadership, seeing weakness where modern Democrats see calculated restraint and humility.
Obama generally admired Bush as more Democratic than Republican, especially for his widely panned willingness to raise taxes and what he called a ‘Hippocratic’ approach to foreign policy. Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 2011.
But America’s first black president privately groused in his White House about Bush’s appointment of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative African-American whom he believed undermined civil rights.
George H.W. Bush is the only former president Jimmy Carter hasn’t swiped at during his post-presidency. Even Obama drew his ire for ordering drone strikes against Middle Eastern terrorists, and for failing to shutter the Guantanamo Bay military prison camp.
He lionized Bush on Saturday for his ‘grace, civility, and social conscience.’
The late president’s remains began the weekend in Houston. Family members accompanied the casket to Washington on the plane that typically serves as Air Force One.
In a hushed quiet that’s rare in America’s bustling Capitol complex, Bush lay in state while dignitaries and family passed underneath the towering Capitol Dome.
An estimated 57,000 people joined them, one by one.
President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump were the last mourners to arrive before the Bush family on Wednesday
President Donald Trump listens intently with his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, and former president Barack Obama at the funeral of America’s 41st president
President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump sat next to former president Barack Obama, his wife Michelle and former president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 election. Former president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn also sat next to them (far right)
Former president Barack Obama greets President Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump
Former vice president Gore greets former president Bill Clinton (left) as former first lady and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton greets former vice president Joe Biden (right)
Former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama were among mourners in the cathedral
Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama embrace as they prepare to take their seats inside the National Cathedral
The Clintons and the Obamas greeted one another warmly before taking their seats in the cathedral
Former first lady Michelle Obama waves hello to a fellow mourner as her husband speaks with Chelsea Clinton
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump took their seats in the cathedral on Wednesday with other mourners ahead of the DC escort service
Prince Charles was seated near Vice President Mike Pence at the funeral of George H.W. Bush on Wednesday
Jordan’s King Abdullah II (center) and Queen Rania greet Prince Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was wheeled into the ceremony quietly
Former US Secretary of State James Baker arrives at the funeral of George H.W. Bush on Wednesday
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is pictured at the funeral of George H.W. Bush on Wednesday
Ninety-five-year-old Bob Dole, a former senator and, like Bush, an undisputed World War II hero, made the most dramatic silent statement: rising from his wheelchair for a moment, determined to stand just long enough to salute his fallen comrade.
George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush surprised mourners Tuesday night, returning for a second visit hours after the televised, polished arrival ceremony.
Seeing a mother and child in the crowd, his eyes lit up and he was at once the all-smiles president Americans knew during the eight months before the 9/11 terror attacks.
He held the tiny girl aloft and posed for photos with his father’s casket in the background, a tableau that spanned five generations and nearly a century of American history.
A return trip eight miles in the air aboard ‘Special Mission 41’ was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon after a Cadillac hearse bearing the Seal of the President of the United States makes a slow drive past the White House.
After a second public viewing in Houston, Texans will say their farewells at an Episcopal church DC escort service before Bush’s flag-draped coffin is hoisted aboard a specialized Union Pacific train car for a 2-1/2 hour trip to the university town of College Station.
Former Vice President Joe Biden arrives with his wife Jill (left). Bill Clinton’s Vice President Al Gore is pictured arriving (right)
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (left) and former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning (right) arrive at the funeral
Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell (center) and his wife Alma (right) were pictured arriving with former Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady (left)
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives at the National Cathedral on Wednesday morning (left). Former Vice President Dick Cheney is pictured inside (right)
Political strategist and former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove is pictured arriving at the funeral
US Senator Dianne Feinstein (left) and Journalist Tom Brokow (right) arrive for the DC escort service
That’s the home of Texas A&M University, the site of Bush’s presidential library. It is also the final resting place of his wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush, who died eight months before him – and of Robin Bush, their daughter who died of leukemia before her fourth birthday.
Bush’s departure from the Capitol, where he once served in Congress for four years and occupied the office space now belonging to New York Democrat Hakeem Jeffries.
Cannons boomed, a military band played ‘Hail to the Chief’.
The members of the congressional leadership lined up outside to greet the Bush family when they arrived: Speaker Paul Ryan, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
Crowds of people lined Pennsylvania Avenue and waved to the motorcade of family members as they journeyed from Blair House, across the street from the White House, up to Capitol Hill.
President Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning that the day was a ‘day of celebration for a great man’
Two lines of soldiers – representing various branches of the armed forces – walked up the Capitol stairs to stand watch as the president’s casket left for Washington National Cathedral and his funeral DC escort service there.
The former president died on Friday at his home in Houston, Texas, aged 94 on Friday. He was brought to Washington DC on Air Force One on Monday with his family.
The ceremony drew together world envoys, Americans of high office and a guy from Maine who used to fix things in Bush’s house on the water.
All four living ex-presidents were in attendance, led by former President George W. Bush.
The other eulogists were be Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming; Brian Mulroney, the former Canadian prime minister who also spoke at Ronald Reagan’s funeral; and presidential historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a Bush biography.
George H.W. Bush will be remembered as the man who oversaw the post-Cold War transition and led a successful Gulf War, before losing re-election in a generational shift to Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992.
Among the guests was be King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan, Britain’s Prince Charles, Prince Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Polish President Andrzej Duda.
Rubbing shoulders with the dignitaries was Mike Lovejoy, a Kennebunkport electrician and fix-it man who has worked at Bush’s Maine summer estate since 1990 and says he was shocked and heartened to be asked to come.
George H.W. Bush spoke openly about dying and that he was ready to rejoin his wife, Barbara Pierce, in heaven. She died in April this year
On Tuesday, soldiers, citizens in wheelchairs and long lines of others on foot wound through the hushed Capitol Rotunda to view Bush’s casket and honor a president whose legacy included World War II military DC escort service and a landmark law affirming the rights of the disabled.
Former Senator Bob Dole, a compatriot in war, peace and political struggle, steadied himself out of his wheelchair and saluted his old friend and onetime rival.
After the national funeral DC escort service at the cathedral, Bush’s remains will be returned to Houston to lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church before burial Thursday at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station.
His final resting place will be alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years who died in April, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia in 1953 at age three.
Trump ordered the federal government closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.
As at notable moments in his life, Bush brought together Republicans and Democrats in his death.
A guide to George H.W. Bush’s funeral
President George H.W. Bush is getting a national farewell at Washington National Cathedral before family, friends, presidents and foreign dignitaries.
The nation’s 41st president died Friday at age 94. His wife of 73 years, Barbara, passed away in April.
Things to know about the event Wednesday:
Bush’s casket has been lying in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda since Monday, with a river of mourners passing through around the clock. The viewing comes to a close at 7 a.m. EST Wednesday. The casket and the family will arrive at the cathedral just before 11 a.m., when the DC escort service is expected to begin.
HOW TO WATCH
The DC escort service is closed to the public, but will be aired live on C-SPAN and covered by major television networks.
WHO WILL SPEAK
Four men are expected to deliver eulogies. The late president’s son George W. Bush, also a former president; former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who held the post while the elder Bush was president; former Sen. Alan Simpson, , who has known the Bush family since the 1960s; and historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a Bush biography.
Public viewing of the casket will close at 7am EST before the family arrives ready for the DC escort service to begin at 11am
WHO WILL BE THERE
All eyes will be on the row directly in front of the pulpit. That’s where President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, are expected to sit, along with the remaining former presidents and their families: George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and his wife — Trump’s 2016 Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Trump has had strained relations (at best) with all of them. But since Bush’s death, Trump has extended traditional courtesies to the Bush family, including allowing them to stay at the presidential guest house and visiting with them there.
Also attending: Britain’s Prince Charles, the king and queen of Jordan, Polish President Andrzej Duda and other dignitaries from around the world. Look, too, for some of the graybeards from the late president’s administration.
Look for much discussion of Bush’s legacy of decency, humor and a determination to avoid referring to himself with the pronoun ‘I.’ That last habit alone, instilled in Bush by his mother, sets up a contrast with Trump that no one has to mention out loud.
Likely, no one will, in keeping with the Bush family’s reported wish that the nation mourn their patriarch without the drama of such distractions.
But Meacham wrote an op-ed for The New York Times this week about Bush that ended with a hard-to-mistake reference.
‘The nation mourns him not least because we no longer have a president who knows that the story of the nation is not all about him,’ Meacham wrote.
BUSH AND THE CATHEDRAL
The late president played an important role in the history of the cathedral chartered by Congress in 1893.
On Sept. 29, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt laid the foundation stone. Exactly 83 years later, Bush was there when the final stone was laid in place.
Bush said at the time: ‘We have constructed here this symbol of our nation’s spiritual life, overlooking the center of our nation’s secular life, a symbol which combines the permanence of stone and God — both of which will outlast men and memories.’
Bush is the fourth president to have his state funeral at the site, according to the cathedral. The others were Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. Seven other presidents had memorial escort services in Washington DC there.
George W. Bush (left, with wife Laura) will join three other former presidents in the DC escort service and will give a eulogy, and will also be joined by current President Donald Trump (right) and his wife Melania
A BIT ABOUT STATE FUNERALS
For U.S. presidents, there’s a whole list of customs, protocols and military honors that influence a national farewell, but much of the affair is subject to the family’s wishes.
The president’s survivors are entitled to a military DC escort for the immediate family, for example, until the remains are buried. A nine-person team that carries the casket is another option. And a flag-draped casket is an honor afforded military veterans and the president as commander in chief.
Bush was a veteran of World War II.
THE LAST TIME
Sen. John McCain’s funeral was held at Washington National Cathedral after he died in August of brain cancer.
Trump, who derided McCain’s heroism in Vietnam and prodded the senator even during his illness, was asked by the family to stay away.
But it seemed like the rest of Washington attended and the event became widely regarded as a repudiation of the current president. The assembled crowd burst into applause when McCain’s daughter, Meghan, loudly rejected Trumpism from the pulpit without naming the president. Trump spent the day playing golf.
WHERE TO NEXT
Bush’s casket will return to Texas late Wednesday for the last time.
He’s expected to lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston until 7 a.m. EST Thursday. The church will also hold its own memorial DC escort service for the former president later that morning.
A motorcade will take Bush’s body to Union Pacific Railroad Westfield Auto Facility, where a funeral train will transport the late president’s remains to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.
He’ll be laid to rest on the grounds of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, near his wife, Barbara, and their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.