Last salute: A guide to George HW Bush’s funeral
WASHINGTON — President George H.W. Bush is getting a national farewell at Washington National Cathedral before family, friends, presidents and foreign dignitaries.
The nation’s 41st president died Friday at age 94. His wife of 73 years, Barbara, passed away in April.
Things to know about the event Wednesday:
Bush’s casket has been lying in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda since Monday, with a river of mourners passing through around the clock. The viewing comes to a close at 7 a.m. EST Wednesday. The casket and the family will arrive at the cathedral just before 11 a.m., when the service is expected to begin.
HOW TO WATCH
The service is closed to the public, but will be aired live on C-SPAN and covered by major television networks.
WHO WILL SPEAK
Four men are expected to deliver eulogies. The late president’s son George W. Bush, also a former president; former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who held the post while the elder Bush was president; former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., who has known the Bush family since the 1960s; and historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a Bush biography.
WHO WILL BE THERE
All eyes will be on the row directly in front of the pulpit. That’s where President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, are expected to sit, along with the remaining former presidents and their families: George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and his wife — Trump’s 2016 Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Trump has had strained relations (at best) with all of them. But since Bush’s death, Trump has extended traditional courtesies to the Bush family, including allowing them to stay at the presidential guest house and visiting with them there.
Also attending: Britain’s Prince Charles, the king and queen of Jordan, Polish President Andrzej Duda and other dignitaries from around the world. Look, too, for some of the graybeards from the late president’s administration.
Look for much discussion of Bush’s legacy of decency, humor and a determination to avoid referring to himself with the pronoun “I.” That last habit alone, instilled in Bush by his mother, sets up a contrast with Trump that no one has to mention out loud. Likely, no one will, in keeping with the Bush family’s reported wish that the nation mourn their patriarch without the drama of such distractions.
But Meacham wrote an op-ed for The New York Times this week about Bush that ended with a hard-to-mistake reference.
“The nation mourns him not least because we no longer have a president who knows that the story of the nation is not all about him,” Meacham wrote.
BUSH AND THE CATHEDRAL
The late president played an important role in the history of the cathedral chartered by Congress in 1893.
On Sept. 29, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt laid the foundation stone. Exactly 83 years later, Bush was there when the final stone was laid in place.
Bush said at the time: “We have constructed here this symbol of our nation’s spiritual life, overlooking the center of our nation’s secular life, a symbol which combines the permanence of stone and God — both of which will outlast men and memories.”
Bush is the fourth president to have his state funeral at the site, according to the cathedral. The others were Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. Seven other presidents had memorial services there.
A BIT ABOUT STATE FUNERALS
For U.S. presidents, there’s a whole list of customs, protocols and military honors that influence a national farewell, but much of the affair is subject to the family’s wishes. The president’s survivors are entitled to a military escort for the immediate family, for example, until the remains are buried. A nine-person team that carries the casket is another option. And a flag-draped casket is an honor afforded military veterans and the president as commander in chief.
Bush was a veteran of World War II.
THE LAST TIME
Sen. John McCain’s funeral was held at Washington National Cathedral after he died in August of brain cancer. Trump, who derided McCain’s heroism in Vietnam and prodded the senator even during his illness, was asked by the family to stay away. But it seemed like the rest of Washington attended and the event became widely regarded as a repudiation of the current president. The assembled crowd burst into applause when McCain’s daughter, Meghan, loudly rejected Trumpism from the pulpit without naming the president. Trump spent the day playing golf.
WHERE TO NEXT
Bush’s casket will return to Texas late Wednesday for the last time.
He’s expected to lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston until 7 a.m. EST Thursday. The church will also hold its own memorial service for the former president later that morning.
A motorcade will take Bush’s body to Union Pacific Railroad Westfield Auto Facility, where a funeral train will transport the late president’s remains to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. He’ll be laid to rest on the grounds of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, near his wife, Barbara, and their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.