Mourners line tracks as funeral train carries President George H.W. Bush to burial next to wife, daughter
David J. Phillip-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The nation’s farewell to President George H.W. Bush is ending in his adopted home state of Texas, when, after a more intimate service for family and friends Thursday, he will be buried where he had long hoped to be: next to his wife, Barbara, and their daughter, Robin, who broke their hearts when she died at age 3 of leukemia.
After the church service, a presidential funeral train carried Bush’s casket on a 70-mile final journey to the burial site, moving slowly at times as mourners, some saluting, many waving American flags, stood along the tracks in his honor.
At the Texas funeral, he was eulogized by his longtime best friend, James Baker, who became his secretary of state and was with him in his last hours.
He described Bush as “a truly beautiful human being.”
“Man’s glory begins and ends with friends,” Baker said in a tearful description of their many decades together. He began with an apology to a man he said was always humble, but always clear in his decisions.
“I’m about to do something you always hated — brag about yourself,” he said. “I will do this because it must be done.”
In a gesture to ways of the past – a time well before presidential Twitter feeds – he called Bush a “charter member of the greatest generation,” the “finest” one-term president the country ever had, and a man who believed in “humility toward and not humiliation of” his adversaries.
Baker also poked fun, joking that during a friendly disagreement, Bush used what Baker said was his “effective way of ending a discussion:” ‘Baker, if you’re so smart, why am I president and you’re not?'”
As he finished, he paraphrased the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, saying, “Our glory, George, was to have you as our president, and such a friend,” then broke briefly into tears. As he walked back to his pew, he got a warm hug from former President George W. Bush.
George Prescott Bush, the late president’s grandson and the son of former presidential candidate Jeb Bush, followed Baker. Bush, who served in the Navy like his grandfather, shared memories of the good times the Bush grandchildren had with the man they knew as “Gampy.”
Speaking at his father’s emotional service in Washington on Wednesday, the 43rd president said the family took solace in knowing the elder Bush will be reunited with those who meant so much to him.
“So, through our tears, let us see the blessings of knowing and loving you – a great and noble man, and the best father a son or daughter could have,” he said, choking up. “And in our grief, let us smile knowing that Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.”
H.W. Bush became a Texas transplant in the late 1950s after graduating from Yale University and leaving his home in a wealthy town in Connecticut, where he was raised. He moved his growing family to West Texas to learn the oil industry from the ground up, eventually deciding to run for Congress, embarking on his long career in politics.
Before the Texas funeral began, he lay in repose at the St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, which the Bushes joined in 1959.
The Texas ceremonies were intended for about 1,200 friends of the family — many of whom are said to hail from “west of the Mississippi” — and included stars from the country music world Bush came to love: Reba McEntire sang “The Lord’s Prayer” and the Oak Ridge Boys performed a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
It was in marked contrast to the more formal funeral in Washington, during which the world watched as all five of the nation’s living presidents, as well as first ladies and hundreds of the city’s power figures, gathered at the Washington National Cathedral.
According to a Bush family spokesperson, the late president, who had a signature pair of socks for seemingly every occasion, will be buried in a pair showing Navy fighter planes flying in formation, honoring his days as a naval aviator, a lifelong source of pride.
In return, in an unprecedented gesture, the Navy will conduct the largest-ever 21-aircraft missing man formation to mark Bush’s wartime legacy.
“In addition to being our president, he was also one of our brothers, flying combat missions off aircraft carriers during World War II. His service to our Navy and nation merits a tribute of this magnitude,” Rear Adm. Roy Kelley, commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic, said in a statement.
The F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets will fly over the interment ceremony at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.
The special train taking Bush’s casket and family to the gravesite is reminiscent of previous presidential funeral trains.
This one, designated the Union Pacific No. 4141 and painted in the colors of Air Force One, was unveiled in his honor back in 2005.
At a final, private graveside service, in the late afternoon, “Taps” will be played and the Navy hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” will be sung, and George H.W. Bush will be laid to rest.
On his simple headstone, what he once said all he wanted: his U.S. Navy identification number and the inscription: “He loved Barbara very much.”
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