President George H.W. Bush laid to rest next to wife, daughter
The nation’s farewell to President George H.W. Bush ended Thursday in his adopted home state of Texas, when, after a more intimate service for family and friends, he was 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.
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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 thousands of mourners, some saluting, many waving American flags, stood along the tracks in his honor.
The train pulled slowly into College Station and the president’s flag-draped casket was then loaded by military pallbearers into a hearse, which took it to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Museum and Library at Texas A&M University.
A burial ceremony there featured an unprecedented gesture from the U.S. Navy to mark Bush’s wartime legacy — the largest-ever 21-aircraft missing man formation.
According to a Bush family spokesperson, the late president, who had a signature pair of socks for seemingly every occasion, was buried in a pair showing Navy fighter planes flying in formation, honoring his days as a naval aviator, a lifelong source of pride.
The 41st President will be carried to his final rest wearing socks that pay tribute to his lifetime of service, starting as an 18 year-old naval aviator in war. That legacy is now being carried, in part, by the brave, selfless men and women aboard @CVN77_GHWB. #Remembering41pic.twitter.com/OabtK756fO
“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 four days of services concluded with the Bush family walking behind the casket to a private graveside service in the late afternoon. “Taps” was played and the Navy hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” was sung before Bush was laid to rest.
On his headstone read the simple inscription he once said was all he wanted: his U.S. Navy identification number and the words, “He loved Barbara very much.”
The Thursday ceremonies began at the Texas funeral, where Bush 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 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.”
Speaking of a world in many ways now past – a time 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.”
During his homily, the rector of St. Martin’s, the Rev. Dr. Russell Levenson, spoke of the never-ending love affair between George and Barbara Bush, married for 73 years.
He told a story about how one day, when he was going to visit the ailing president, he asked Barbara Bush if she wanted him to relay any message.
“Just tell him I adore him,” he said she told him.
Saying of the late president, “He was ready for heaven, and heaven for him,” Levenson said he could imagine Barbara Bush standing there with her hands on her hips, telling her husband, “What took you so long?”
Then, he said, she would say to him, “We adore you,” and give him “a big ‘ole Texas hug.”