COLLEGE STATION: Americans offered their final farewells to George HW Bush ahead of his Thursday burial in Texas, concluding a four-day tribute to the 41st president that saw the nation briefly set aside its political divisions.
After a state funeral Wednesday in Washington that was attended by the country’s five living presidents and foreign dignitaries, Bush’s flag-draped casket was flown to Houston.
Bush, who died Friday at age 94, lay in repose at St Martin’s Episcopal Church there, where the Bushes worshipped for decades, and then was honoured at a final memorial service by friends like James Baker, who served as his secretary of state.
“His incredible service to our nation and the world are already etched in the marble of time,” Baker said in his eulogy, as he highlighted the sense of duty, service to country, and personal decency that drove Bush.
Fighting through tears, the 88-year-old Baker recalled how Bush’s deeds “expressed his moral character, and they reflected his decency, his boundless kindness and consideration of others, his determination always to do the right thing.”
Bush will be interred at his presidential library in College Station next to his wife Barbara, who died in April, and their daughter Robin, who died of leukaemia at age three.
Son George W Bush, the nation’s 43rd president, appeared somber at his wife Laura’s side, and stood ramrod straight outside the church as military pallbearers carried the casket to a waiting black hearse.
It was then placed on a train – with a locomotive painted in the colours and pattern of Air Force One, the presidential jet – for the final journey to the presidential library for a final ceremony and the burial.
At Wednesday’s memorial service in Washington, President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania shared a front row pew in the National Cathedral with past presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and their wives as an honour guard brought Bush’s casket into the prayer hall.
George W. Bush delivered an emotional eulogy in tribute to his father. The pair are only the second father-son presidential duo in American history, after John and John Quincy Adams.
“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.
Wednesday’s funeral capped a national homage that saw Bush lie in state in the US Capitol rotunda.
Thousands paid respects to a statesman who steered the nation through turbulent times including the end of the Cold War and the marshalling of an international coalition to oust invading Iraqi forces from the tiny Gulf emirate of Kuwait.
On Thursday, Baker pointed to Bush’s eagerness to forge compromise and peace rather than rattle sabres.
“He had the courage of a warrior,” Baker said. “But when the time came for prudence, he always maintained the greater courage of a peacemaker.”
Since Bush’s death, Trump has traded his usual provocative posture for one of solemnity and respect for the Bushes, with whom he has often clashed since his meteoric rise in the world of politics.
As Trump toned down the rhetoric this week, Washington’s political heat was reduced from a normal boil to a simmer.
But at Wednesday’s service, tensions were obvious.
Trump arrived and shook hands with Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, but his body language turned cold as he failed to acknowledge Hillary Clinton, his defeated Democratic rival in 2016, or her president husband Bill.
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 White House.