Washington: The remains of the late U.S. President George H.W. Bush began a final journey on Monday, traveling from Texasback to America’s capital city where he served four years in Congress, one at the helm of the CIA, eight as vice president and four in the White House.
Family and former staffers attended a brief departure ceremony Monday at a Texas Air National Guard base outside Houston, watching as a contingent of eight sailors and Marines took his flag-draped casket to the jet that serves as Air Force One – for a last trip to Washington.
Secret Service agents carried the president’s body out of the George H. Lewis Funeral Home in Houston, placing it in a hearse for a motorcade-drive to Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, where the world’s most famous aircraft awaited.
As the somber procession took up the southbound lanes of Interstate 45, motorists driving along the northbound lanes pulled over in a miles-long show of respect.
The departure ceremony featured a 21-gun salute and a military band playing ‘Hail to the Chief,’ plus the four ‘Ruffles and Flourishes’ trumpet fanfares that precede it.
Two of Bush’s sons, former President George W. Bush and Neil Bush, will accompany the body of the 41st president on the presidential Boeing 747, renamed ‘Special Air Mission 41’ for the flight, as it travels to Joint Base Andrews in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.
Bush’s service dog, Sully, will be reassigned to a wounded warrior at Walter Reed Naval Medical Center near Washington. The dog was photographed lying in front of Bush’s casket at the funeral home on Monday.
The pair of planes that serve as President Trump’s ‘Air Force One’ jets were first placed into service during Bush’s time in office. They are scheduled to be retired in 2021.
Bush will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda from Monday through Wednesday, when a state funeral is scheduled at the National Cathedral.
A contingent of former Bush staff members now living in Texas will join the mourners leaving Houston on Monday morning.
After a public viewing at an Episcopal church in Houston, Bush’s casket will be placed on a Union Pacific train car and pulled 70 miles to the town of College Station, home of Texas A&M University, where his presidential library is located.
Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower were honored in the same way, traveling to their final resting places on trains that Americans lined up to see as they passed.
The locomotive chosen for his final journey was customized in Bush’s honor in 2005 and painted with the number ‘4141’ in his honor. He marveled at its unveiling that year and asked to take it for a ride.
On Thursday his casket will be in a train car with Plexiglas windows to allow people to see it during the trip.
The 41st president died at his Houston home on Friday night, seven months after his wife Barbara passed away.
After services in Washington, there will be another funeral in Houston on Thursday followed by burial at the Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.
Bush will be laid to rest alongside his wife of 73 years and Robin Bush, their daughter who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.
Bush served two terms as vice president under fellow Republican President Ronald Reagan before winning his own White House term from 1989 to 1993.
His time in office saw the end of the Cold War. Bush also presided over the United States’ routing of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s army in the 1991 Gulf War.
He failed to win a second term after breaking a ‘no new taxes’ pledge.
Remembrances to George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush sprang up over the weekend in the neighborhood where he made his home, at a memorial in a city park, and at the Houston airport named in his honor.
Retired Gen. Colin Powell, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was Bush’s top military adviser, said Bush was the ‘perfect American’ for serving his country in so many different capacities and should be remembered for ‘a life of quality, a life of honor, a life of honesty, a life of total concern for the American people.’
‘He was a patriot. He demonstrated that in war, he demonstrated that in peace. He was able to demonstrate that in his four years of service,’ Powell said Sunday on ABC’s ‘This Week.’
Trump has ordered the federal government closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days as a show of respect.
Bush’s passing puts him back in the Washington spotlight after more than two decades living the relatively low-key life of a former president. His death also reduces membership in the exclusive ex-presidents’ club to four: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
One of Bush’s major achievements was assembling the international military coalition that liberated the tiny, oil-rich nation of Kuwait from invading neighbor Iraq in 1991. The war lasted just 100 hours. He also presided over the end of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union.
A humble hero of World War II, Bush was just 20 when he survived being shot down during a bombing run over Japan. He joined the Navy when he turned 18.
Shortly before leaving the service, he married his 19-year-old sweetheart, Barbara Pierce, and forged a 73-year union that was the longest presidential marriage in U.S. history until her death. Bush enrolled at Yale University after military service, becoming a scholar-athlete and captaining the baseball team to two College World Series before graduating Phi Beta Kappa after just 2½ years.
After moving to Texas to work in the oil business, Bush turned his attention to politics in the 1960s. He was elected to the first of two terms in Congress in 1967. He would go on to serve as ambassador to the United Nations and China, head of the CIA and chairman of the Republican National Committee before being elected to two terms as Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
Soon after he reached the height of his political popularity following the liberation of Kuwait, with public approval ratings that are the envy of today’s politicians, the U.S. economy began to sour and voters began to believe that Bush, never a great communicator – something even he acknowledged – was out of touch with ordinary people.
He was denied a second term by then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who would later become a close friend. The pair worked together to raise tens of millions of dollars for victims of a 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005.
‘Who would have thought that I would be working with Bill Clinton of all people?’ he joked in 2005.
In a recent essay, Clinton declared of Bush: ‘I just loved him.’