WASHINGTON – Thousands are gathering to pay their respects to George H.W. Bush during a state funeral service at Washington National Cathedral on a national day of mourning for the last president from the “Greatest Generation.”
His son, former president George W. Bush, former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney and biographer Jon Meacham will deliver eulogies for the 41st president. Former senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming, a close friend of the elder Bush, also is expected to speak.
The program will feature readings by his granddaughters Lauren Bush, Ashley Walker Bush and Jenna Bush Hager. Irish tenor Ronan Tynan will sing “Last Full Measure of Devotion” and “The Lords Prayer.”
The eulogy by his son promises a moment for the history books, as one president eulogizes another who also happens to be his father.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are slated to attend, along with Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Jimmy Carter – marking the first time Trump will join a gathering of ex-presidents.
“Looking forward to being with the Bush family. This is not a funeral, this is a day of celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life,” he tweeted before the service. “He will be missed!”
The cavernous cathedral was already filling up an hour before the service. The atmosphere was of a somber reunion, where Washington’s movers and shakers from a bygone era mingled with current officeholders.
Across town, a departure ceremony was underway at the United States Capitol, where the 41st president has been lying in state since Monday evening. A motorcade will transport Bush’s casket to the cathedral, where the service is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
The service is the centerpiece of several days of events celebrating Bush’s life and more than three decades of public service, beginning as a naval aviator in World War II and continuing after a career in the oil business. He served as a congressman, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and director of the Central Intelligence Agency before his two terms as Ronald Reagan’s vice president from 1981-89.
He then became the first sitting vice president to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1837. During his tenure in the Oval Office, Bush oversaw the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he built a global coalition to force Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm.
On the domestic side, he signed the first of three major deficit reduction agreements in 1990 that slashed spending and raised taxes, which may have cost him re-election in 1992. He also signed the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act and clean air legislation.
Bush, who died Friday at 94 after years battling Vascular Parkinsonism, which had left him in a wheelchair, chose the four men who will eulogize him: his eldest son, the 43rd president; Mulroney, with whom he enjoyed a close relationship; Simpson, a plain-spoken Westerner whom Bush considered as his running mate in 1988; and Meacham, author of “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.”
The state funeral for the 41st president, whose death was met with tributes from around the world, is the first presidential funeral since Gerald Ford died in 2006. Reagan’s funeral was held two years earlier, in 2004.
After the service, Bush’s remains will be flown to Houston, where he will lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. A funeral service will be held at the church Thursday. He then will be taken by train to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.
Bush will be laid to rest in a family plot with his wife of 73 years, Barbara, who died in April, and daughter Pauline Robinson Bush, who died from leukemia at 3 years old in 1953.
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