weather icon Clear

George H.W. Bush celebrated in state funeral

Updated December 5, 2018 - 2:53 pm

WASHINGTON — Former President George W. Bush bid farewell Wednesday to the late President George H.W. Bush, in a moving tribute from a son to a father and a president to another president.

“When the history books are written,” Bush told those attending a memorial service at Washington National Cathedral, “they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States.”

Choking back emotion but also savoring the humorous moments in the family’s eventful history, Bush spoke of his father in heroic terms as “a man of constant motion,” a father figure who made friends with everyone – including “perhaps the most unlikely of all, the man who defeated him, Bill Clinton” — and a parent whose last words on earth were, “I love you too.”

“To us,” the son said of the father, “his was the brightest of a thousand points of light.”

After three days of funeral events in Washington, Bush was headed home to Texas for more ceremony and then his burial Thursday. After the cathedral service, the hearse and a long motorcade drove to the National Mall to pass by the World War II Memorial, a nod to the late president’s service as a World War II Navy pilot, then arrived at Joint Base Andrews.

Cannon roared again, “Hail to the Chief” was played for Bush for a final time in the capital and the plane with his casket and Bush family members aboard took off for Houston. He died Friday at age 94.


Bush biographer and historian Jon Meacham opened Wednesday’s ceremony by saluting Bush as “America’s last great soldier-statesman.”

Meacham recounted Bush’s service as a Navy pilot during World War II, including the harrowing incident in September 1944 when his plane was shot down near the Japanese Island of Chichi Jima. As president, Meacham said, Bush was “a lion who not only led us, but loved us.”

Meacham also recalled humorous moments from the 41st president’s political career, including an incident when Bush, campaigning in a crowded department store, inadvertently shook hands with a mannequin. Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply cracked, “You never know,” Meacham said.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney recalled a visit with Bush and his wife Barbara at Kennebunkport in 2001 when Bush told him, “Bar and I could not have asked for better lives.” Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years, died in April.

Mulroney praised Bush as a strong world leader who helped oversee the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union and helped bring about the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, signed into law by his successor, Clinton.

Former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., recalled Bush as a man all about “friendship and loyalty,” whose “own party turned on him” after Bush supported a tax increase after campaigning on a pledge not to raise taxes.

“Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, D.C., are not bothered by heavy traffic,” Simpson said to laughter.

Former presidents

The ceremony put victorious and vanquished aspirants for the nation’s highest office in close quarters. Former President Jimmy Carter, who was defeated by President Ronald Reagan and Bush in 1980, sat in the front pew next to his wife Rosalynn Carter.

Next to the Carters sat Clinton, who beat Bush 41 in 1992, and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama.

Before the service began, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump sat down next to the Obamas. Trump shook hands with the Obamas, but there was no handshake with the Clintons. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election.

The other living ex-president, George W. Bush, sat with his wife, former first lady Laura Bush, in a front pew on the other side of the aisle with other members of the Bush family.

Next to the 43rd president and first lady sat Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor whom Trump dubbed “low energy Jeb” as he trounced him in the 2016 GOP primaries.

While the family of the late Sen. John McCain, another GOP icon who died in August, made it clear they did not want Trump to attend McCain’s memorial service, the Bushes had made it known that the the family would welcome Trump at the service for the 41st president.

Before leaving the White House, Trump tweeted, “This is 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!”

Earlier Trump had declared Wednesday a National Day of Mourning, which closed most of the federal government.

Others in attendance included Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen, as well as former Vice Presidents Joe Biden, Dick Cheney, Al Gore, and Dan Quayle. Two members of the Nevada delegation, Reps. Ruben Kihuen and Jacky Rosen, attended.

Earlier, an honor guard carried the 41st president’s flag-draped casket into the cathedral after a motorcade carried it from the Capitol, where Bush had lain in state since Monday afternoon.

Under gray skies, well-wishers dotted the route traveled by the hearse-led motorcade to pay tribute to the last American president to have served in World War II.

After the service, the funeral procession carried the former president’s casket and the Bush entourage to Joint Base Andrews, where the president’s plane, renamed “Special Air Mission 41” for the journey, took off bound for Houston.

Bush will lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church before burial 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 and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia in 1953.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Joe Biden leads fundraising in Nevada

Joe Biden, the former vice president, outpaced all his Democratic rivals for the 2020 presidential nomination in Nevada fundraising in the second quarter of 2019.

US’s ‘remain in Mexico’ expanded to dangerous part of border

The U.S. government on Friday expanded its policy requiring asylum seekers to wait outside the country to one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, where thousands of people are already camped.

British say Iran seizes 2 vessels in Strait of Hormuz

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard says it has seized a British oil tanker that was passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

Dems questioning Mueller will focus on obstruction

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee who will question former special counsel Robert Mueller next week plan to focus on a narrow set of episodes laid out in his report.

County commission cautiously open to working with school district

The Clark County Commission on Thursday signaled a cautious willingness to partner with the Clark County School District on education initiatives that would be funded through a potential quarter-percent sales tax, but stressed the need for accountability, information and easier public access to school grounds.