Former President George H.W. Bush was eulogized at a ceremony in the Capitol on Monday as a gracious, humble public servant who remained a model of human decency throughout his life.
“In consequential times, George Herbert Walker Bush demonstrated the finest qualifies of our nation and of humankind,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Bush, he said, was “a great leader and a good man.”
Later Monday, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump joined other Americans who showed up at the Capitol to pay their respects to Bush, who died late Friday in Houston at age 94 after a battle with vascular Parkinsonism.
Trump and the first lady walked into the Capitol Rotunda at 8:30 p.m. and stood side by side for roughly a minute in front of Bush’s flag-draped coffin. Trump saluted the casket, and the first lady placed her hand on her heart before the couple exited.
Neither the president nor the first lady spoke. But in a message to Congress, Trump said Bush led a life “that exemplified what is truly great about America.”
“As with so many of his generation, the Greatest Generation, President Bush worked selflessly throughout his long life to bring about a world of justice and lasting peace,” Trump wrote. “With his passing, we mark one of the last pages of a defining chapter in American history.”
The flag-draped coffin of the nation’s 41st president, who will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Wednesday, arrived in Washington for the final time Monday afternoon aboard the blue-and-white presidential jet that serves as Air Force One.
A light breeze blew as the jet, designated as Special Air Mission 41 in Bush’s honor, touched down at 3:22 p.m. at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, just outside of Washington.
A formation of Air Force personnel and sailors from the USS George H.W. Bush, the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, stood at attention as the aircraft landed.
Members of Bush’s family, including former President George W. Bush, former first lady Laura Bush and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, watched silently as Bush’s coffin was lifted from the jet and carried to the black hearse that took him to the Capitol.
Dusk was beginning to settle over the capital city, and pink and purple streaks of light filled the skies when the hearse pulled up to the East Front of the Capitol about a half-hour later.
An eight-man team of military pallbearers gently lifted the coffin from the hearse amid a 21-gun salute and a military band’s rendition of “Hail to the Chief.” They slowly carried the coffin up the steps of the Capitol and into the Rotunda, where it rests on the same catafalque that supported the casket of Abraham Lincoln after his assassination in 1865.
At the bipartisan ceremony in the Capitol, Bush was remembered with admiration by Ryan, Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Pence detailed Bush’s extensive record of public service, which began when he enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and continued for four years in the House and through assignments as a United Nations ambassador, the nation’s first envoy to China and head of the CIA.
Before he was elected president in 1988, Bush served as Ronald Reagan’s vice president for eight years.
Pence cited a letter Bush wrote in which he described the vice presidency as a job that involved “nothing substantive to do at all.” He paused and looked around for a short time and cracked a small smile, drawing a chuckle from those in the Rotunda.
“There was a kindness about the man that was evident to anyone who ever met him,” Pence said.
McConnell recalled that Bush was only 20 when his plane was hit on a bombing run in 1944. Through fire and smoke, Bush remained steady at the controls and didn’t parachute out over the Pacific until he had accomplished his mission, McConnell said.
Through his decades of public service, “George Herbert Walker Bush steered this country as straight as he steered that airplane,” McConnell said. “He kept us flying high and challenged us to fly higher still. And he did it with modesty and kindness that would have been surprising in someone one-tenth as tough and as accomplished as he was.”
Throughout the ceremony, an emotional George W. Bush looked at the ceiling to try to compose himself.
The public was allowed to enter the Capitol and pay respects starting at 7:30 p.m. EST.
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Source: USA Today