WASHINGTON, Dec 6, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – A divided Washington led by the
nation’s five living presidents put on a rare show of unity Wednesday at the
state funeral of George Herbert Walker Bush, as America bade farewell to its
Donald and Melania Trump shared a front row pew in the National Cathedral
with past presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and their wives
as an honor guard brought Bush’s flag-draped casket into the prayer hall
filled with dignitaries.
George W. Bush tapped the casket twice when he walked up to deliver a
rousing eulogy, fighting through tears as he sang the praises of his father
and predecessor as commander-in-chief, who died Friday at age 94.
“He showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity,
leads with courage, and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our
country,” Bush said.
“He was born with just two settings — full throttle, then sleep,” he
said. “To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light,” he said
in a reference to his father’s signature call to volunteerism.
“When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush
was a great president of the United States.”
Bush’s eulogy followed a performance by Irish tenor Ronan Tynan — a
friend of H.W. who sang to him in his dying hours.
Wednesday’s funeral capped a national homage that saw Bush lie in state in
the US Capitol rotunda, where thousands paid respects to a statesman who
steered the nation through turbulent times including the end of the Cold War
— and in a style dramatically different to the current president.
Since Bush’s death, Trump has traded his usual provocative posture for one
of solemnity, tweeting before the service about “a day of celebration for a
great man who has led a long and distinguished life.”
“He will be missed!” Trump wrote.
At the funeral, Trump and his Democratic predecessors appeared locked in
an uneasy truce.
Trump arrived and shook hands with Obama and former first lady Michelle
But his greetings stopped there, and the body language turned cold as he
failed to acknowledge Hillary Clinton, his defeated Democratic rival in 2016.
Clinton stared straight ahead and the two made no eye contact.
It was a marked contrast when George W. Bush arrived minutes later and
shook hands with the current and past presidents and their wives — and
handed Michelle Obama a piece of candy, as he did during the memorial service
for senator John McCain in the same cathedral in September.
Bells tolled while the casket was carried down the aisle, as dignitaries
including Britain’s Prince Charles, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former
Polish president Lech Walesa, and former US vice presidents and cabinet
officials looked on.
Precision, patriotic ritual, and ceremony ruled the day. The Bushes and
congressional leaders stood outside the US Capitol with hands on hearts as
Bush’s casket was carried out to a 21-gun salute.
Pennsylvania Avenue was lined with well-wishers as the cortege proceeded
toward the Neo-Gothic cathedral in the first presidential funeral since
Gerald Ford died in 2006.
– ‘Stay the course’ –
Bush was a decorated World War II aviator who nearly died when he was shot
down on a bombing mission.
He served as a congressman, envoy to China, director of the Central
Intelligence Agency, and vice president to Ronald Reagan before winning the
Trump’s ascendancy to the head of the Republican Party saw him exchange
vitriolic attacks with the Bushes, notably slamming the presidential son’s
2003 invasion of Iraq and mocking candidate Jeb Bush during the Republican
Bush Sr meanwhile branded Trump a “blowhard,” and revealed he did not vote
At a time of political fissures, admirers of the 41st US president looked
to him this week as a dedicated servant of country who aimed to do good and
bridge political divides.
“His life code, as he said, was tell the truth, don’t blame people, be
strong, do your best, try hard, forgive, stay the course,” presidential
historian Jon Meacham told Wednesday’s service.
Afterwards, the presidential aircraft carried Bush and family on his final
journey from Washington back to Texas, touching down in Houston at 5:00 pm
He will lie in repose at St Martin’s Episcopal Church, where the Bushes
worshipped for decades, until he is buried Thursday.
Bush will be interred at his presidential library in College Station,
Texas, next to his wife, who died in April, and their daughter Robin who died
of leukemia at age three.
“In our grief,” his son George said, “let us smile knowing that Dad is
hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.”