Crowds honor Bush for service, from war to White House
Washington – Soldiers, citizens in wheelchairs and long lines of others on foot wound through the hushed Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday to view George H.W. Bush’s casket and remember a president whose legacy included World War military service and a landmark law affirming the rights of the disabled. Bob Dole, a compatriot in war, peace and political struggle, steadied himself out of his wheelchair and saluted his old friend and one-time rival.
As at notable moments in his life, Bush brought together Republicans and Democrats in his death, and not only the VIPs.
Members of the public who never voted for the man waited in the same long lines as the rest, attesting that Bush possessed the dignity and grace that deserved to be remembered by their presence on a cold overcast day in the capital.
“I’m just here to pay my respects,” said Jane Hernandez, a retired physician in the heavily Democratic city and suburbs. “I wasn’t the biggest fan of his presidency, but all in all he was a good sincere guy doing a really hard job as best he could.”
Bush’s service dog, Sully, was brought to the viewing, too – his main service these last months since Barbara Bush’s death in April being to rest his head on her husband’s lap. Service dogs are trained to do that.
The CIA also honored Bush, the only spy chief to become president, as three agency directors past and present joined the public in the viewing.
In the midst of the period of mourning, first lady Melania Trump gave Laura Bush, one of her predecessors, a tour of holiday decorations at the White House, a “sweet visit during this somber week,” as Mrs. Bush’s Instagram account put it. And the Trumps visited members of the Bush family at the Blair House presidential guesthouse, where they are staying. Former President George W. Bush and his wife greeted the Trumps outside before everyone went in for the private, 20-minute visit.
The Bushes later made a surprise visit to the Capitol Rotunda, shaking hands with visitors and tourists lined up to honor the family patriarch.
George W. and Laura Bush entered first, and the former president put his hand on the flag-draped casket holding the remains of his father. Their twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, followed. Jeb Bush and his wife joined along with about a dozen other members of the Bush family. They mingled for about 10 minutes, at one point George W. Bush held up a baby.
Although President Donald Trump will attend Bush’s national funeral service Wednesday, he is not among the eulogists announced by the Bush family, a list that includes George W. Bush. The others are Alan Simpson, the former senator and acerbic wit from Wyoming; Brian Mulroney, the former Canadian prime minister who also gave a eulogy for Ronald Reagan; and presidential historian Jon Meacham.
People lined up before dawn to pay respects to the 41st president, a son and father of privilege now celebrated by everyday citizens for his common courtesies and depth of experience.
“He was so qualified, and I think he was just a decent man,” said Sharon Terry, touring Washington with friends from an Indianapolis garden club. Said her friend Sue Miller, also in line for the viewing: “I actually think I underestimated him when he was in office. My opinion of him went up seeing how he conducted himself as a statesman afterward.”
Fred Curry, one of the few African-Americans in line, is a registered Democrat from Hyattsville, Maryland, who voted for Bush in 1988, the election won by the one-term president. “Honestly I just liked him,” he said. “He seemed like a sincere and decent man and you couldn’t argue with his qualifications.”
Inside the Capitol, Sully, the 2-year-old Labrador retriever assigned to Bush, sat by the casket in the company of people who came to commemorate Bush’s signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 1990 law that, among its many provisions, required businesses that prohibit pets to give access to service dogs.
“After Mrs. Bush’s death, general companionship was a big part of Sully’s job,” John Miller, president and CEO of America’s VetDogs, said in a phone interview. “One of the things that I think was important to the president was the rest command, where Sully would rest his head on the president’s lap.”
The law was just one point of intersection for Bush and Dole, now 95, who was one of its leading advocates in the Senate.
They were fellow World War II veterans, Republican Party leaders, fierce rivals for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination won by Bush (“Stop lying about my record,” Dole snapped at Bush) and skilled negotiators. Dole, an Army veteran hit by German machine gunfire in Italy, has gone through life with a disabled right arm. Bush, a Navy pilot, survived a bail-out from his stricken aircraft over the Pacific and an earlier crash landing.
On Tuesday Dole was helped out of his wheelchair by an aide, slowly steadied himself and saluted Bush with his left hand, his chin quivering.
Dignitaries had come forward on Monday, too, to honor the Texan whose service to his country extended three quarters of a century, from World War II through his final years as an advocate for volunteerism and relief for people displaced by natural disaster.
The list of funeral service speakers marked the first time since Lyndon Johnson’s death in 1973 that a sitting president was not tapped to eulogize a late president. (Bill Clinton did so for Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush eulogized Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.)
Bush’s state funeral/burial
George H.W. Bush will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda until 8:45 a.m.today. Bush will then be transported by motorcade to the National Cathedral, where a state funeral will be held at 11 a.m.
Following the funeral, Bush will be flown to Houston and then transported by motorcade to St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. A public viewing of Bush’s casket will be held at the church from 7:45 p.m. today until 7 a.m. on Thursday.
On Thursday, a private funeral service with about 1,200 invited guests will be held at the church starting at 10 a.m. Afterward, Bush’s casket will be transported about 21/2 hours by train to the city of College Station, home of Bush’s presidential library at Texas A&M University, where he will be buried at the gated family plot.