Presidents unite at George H.W. Bush’s state funeral

Presidents unite at George H.W. Bush’s state funeral
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.
Washington, Dec 5 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 12/5/2018 12:31:17 PM IST

The casket bearing former President George H.W. Bush’s remains arrived at the National Cathedral in Washington on Wednesday for a soul-searing, once-in-a-generation funeral as he journeyed toward his final resting place. 

D.C.’s biggest bells tolled as pallbearers from every military 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.

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.’ ‘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.

‘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.’  

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.

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