Remembering George H.W. Bush on National Day of Mourning

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A hilltop cathedral in Washington will again fill with the global elite on Wednesday to remember President George H.W. Bush, a man whose characteristic modesty will be belied one final time with all the pageantry of a state funeral.

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – JANUARY 17: Former U.S. President George Bush visits a tent camp for earthquake survivors on the outskirts of Islamabad on January 17, 2006 in Pakistan. Bush, 81, came as a special envoy for the United Nations to speak with survivors of the October 8 earthquake that killed more than 75,000 people and left another 3.5 million homeless. He had been scheduled to visit the earthquake zone, but helicopter flights to the area were grounded because of bad weather. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

For the last two days, Americans both powerful and ordinary have filed past Bush’s flag-draped casket in the Capitol Rotunda, paying their respects to a man who oversaw the end of the Cold War but who suffered defeat after one term.

The late president will be transported by hearse through Washington to the soaring National Cathedral, where 3,000 political leaders and family members were congregating to say goodbye.

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 5: (AFP-OUT) The last of the public files out of the Rotunda as the casket of the late former President George H.W. Bush lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda on December 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. A WWII combat veteran, Bush served as a member of Congress from Texas, ambassador to the United Nations, director of the CIA, vice president and 41st president of the United States. Bush will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda until Wednesday morning. (Photo by Morry Gash – Pool/Getty Images)

Like all presidents, Bush oversaw plans for his own funeral starting years ago, updating the details as time went on so the ceremony would reflect his druthers. It’s the first presidential state funeral since Gerald Ford died in 2006.

Unlike some of his predecessors, Bush told advisers he did not want his ceremony to drag on endlessly, mindful of attendees’ time. Ninety minutes are blocked off, though typically these events extend past the allotted span.

Christian hymns will echo through the cathedral’s limestone arches, sung and played by military orchestras and choirs. In the crowd will sit Jordan’s King, Britain’s Prince of Wales, Germany’s Chancellor and Poland’s President.

The late president’s eldest son, former President George W. Bush, will deliver the final eulogy. He’ll be one of the five living US commanders-in-chief at the event; Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama will all attend along with President Donald Trump. It’s the first time all five men will convene face-to-face since Trump took office.

Bitter disputes between Trump and his predecessors have fractured the traditional presidents’ club. But those rifts were likely to be cast aside during Wednesday’s service.

The other eulogists include Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming; former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who also eulogized President Ronald Reagan in 2004; and presidential historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a biography of Bush.

After Irish tenor Ronan Tynan sings the final hymn, “Last full measure of devotion,” Bush’s casket will depart, returning eventually to his adopted hometown of Houston on the military aircraft known as Air Force One when a president is aboard.

He’ll be buried in his family plot at Texas A&M University in College Station on Thursday.

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