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President Bush's funeral marks the passing of the 'Greatest Generation'

By Noah Bierman • Updated Dec 5, 2018 at 10:10 AM

Dignitaries and elected leaders who helped guide world affairs for the last half-century are gathering today to celebrate the life and legacy of George H.W. Bush, the last president from the so-called Greatest Generation that grew up in the Depression and won World War II.

This morning’s state funeral for America’s 41st president will mark the first time all the living U.S. presidents — Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter — will meet since Trump was inaugurated in January 2017 after a bitter campaign in which he criticized nearly every one of them.

All of the living first spouses except Rosalynn Carter are also expected to attend the 11 a.m. service at Washington National Cathedral.

Trump, who declared today to be a national day of mourning, will attend the funeral but has not been asked to speak. He will be the first sitting president to not make the speakers’ program since President Nixon failed to eulogize Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973.

Although Trump often criticized the elder Bush, as well as his sons George W. and Jeb, the family deliberately avoided using the funeral to make a political statement against him. Trump was excluded from former Sen. John McCain’s memorial service at the same cathedral in September.

Since Bush’s death Friday at age 94 at his home in Houston, Trump has showered his family with condolences and offered tributes to his public service.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump and First Lady Melania Trump exchanged embraces with the Bush family at the Blair House, the president’s official guest quarters. Trump has granted them use of Air Force One, as the plane is known when the president is aboard, for transporting the casket.

Despite those efforts, comparisons between Trump’s muscular “America first” nationalism and Bush’s call for a “kinder, gentler America” inevitably have dominated some of the news coverage.

The former president will be eulogized by his son George, the 43rd president, along with former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Alan Simpson, a former senator from Wyoming, and Jon Meacham, a historian who wrote “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.”

Mulroney became close friends with Bush as they negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, one of several aspects of Bush’s legacy that Trump has excoriated.

Bush’s casket has lain in state under the soaring Rotunda at the U.S. Capitol since Monday night. After an official arrival ceremony with members of Congress, lines stretched more than three hours Tuesday as members of the public jostled to pay their respects to a patrician leader known for his ethics and decency.

Among the mourners was Bob Dole, Bush’s 95-year-old former political rival. Wounded in World War II, Dole struggled to rise from his wheelchair and offer a salute to Bush, a Navy pilot who was shot down over the Pacific during the war.

In addition to competing in the 1988 Republican presidential primary, Bush and Dole helped to rebuild and define the Republican establishment, especially after Nixon was forced to resign in disgrace in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal.

Bush served as President Reagan’s vice president for two terms, and then as president from 1989 to 1993. He led America into war to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait, and helped guide the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany after the Berlin Wall tumbled, as the Cold War finally drew to a close.

But Bush’s deft hand in foreign affairs failed at home, where he saw his popularity plummet as the economy soured. He lost after one term to Bill Clinton, a Democrat, but Bush’s popularity grew as the decades passed and his achievements became more clear.

Bush’s remains will be taken from the Capitol at 10 a.m. today and driven to the National Cathedral, an iconic Neo-Gothic church. As president, the elder Bush attended a ceremony to mark the cathedral’s completion after 83 years of construction, though decorative work continued.

The funeral is expected to last about 90 minutes and will feature readings from three of his grandchildren: Ashley Bush, Lauren Bush and Jenna Bush Hager.


The former president will also lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, where Bush lived, from 7:45 p.m. today until 7 a.m. Thursday. A second memorial service for Bush will be held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church at 11 a.m. Thursday.

Bush will then be taken by a motorcade procession to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, where he will be laid to rest. The remains will be transported by funeral car (train) to College Station.

The arrival ceremony at Texas A&M University, which also is in College Station, will be at 4:45 p.m. and will be followed by another ceremony and the interment at 5:15 p.m. at the George Bush Presidential Library & Museum.

The program for the National Cathedral service features military bands and singers and includes selections from American composers Aaron Copland and John Williams, among others.

Bush, whose close friends and family sometimes called “41” to mark his order in the presidential procession, helped plan details of the funeral, which like other presidential funerals was carefully choreographed years in advance of his death.

“Forty-one didn’t like the idea at all of this whole week,” said Chris Begala, a member of Bush’s media team. “You’d be surprised how many times he would say, ‘Do you really think people will come?’ ”

Begala said Bush had joked that he wished to set a record for the shortest presidential funeral ever.

“That is not going to be granted,” he said.


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