WASHINGTON - Former President George H.W. Bush left Washington for the final time Wednesday after being eulogized at his state funeral as a heroic leader and a loving father.
America’s 41st president died late Friday at his home in Houston. He was 94.
As mourners and dignitaries from around the world gathered at the National Cathedral, Bush’s casket was taken from the U.S. Capitol for the final time while cannons sounded and “Hail to the Chief” was played.
The Bush family, with hands over their hearts, stood at the foot of the Capitol steps as a military band played “Nearer my God to Thee” and the late president’s casket was placed in a waiting hearse.
The hearse carried Bush’s body to the National Cathedral, traveling down Pennsylvania Avenue, which is usually closed to traffic, so that the former chief executive could drive past the White House for the final time.
A state funeral for a statesman
Upon arriving at the church, a band played "Hail to the Chief" and "For All the Saints" as the Bush family held hands and watched while their late patriarch's body was blessed.
Former President George W. Bush shook the hands of President Donald Trump and the three other former presidents who were in attendance, before his father's casket was brought into the church and placed on a catafalque at the crossing.
Jon Meacham, George H.W. Bush's biographer, was the first eulogist at the funeral. He began by recounting the late president's plane crash during World War II in which two of his crewmates were killed.
"To him, his life was no longer his own," Meacham said.
Meacham remembered the often self-deprecating humor of the former president, saying an imperfect man left Americans a more perfect union. He recalled the more than 70-year marriage of George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush, saying the late leader often drew on her strength in times of trouble.
Brian Mulroney, who served as prime minister of Canada while George H.W. Bush served as president, began his eulogy by recalling the first meeting between him and the late president at a NATO gathering, saying the elder Bush learned a valuable lesson in international affairs.
"The smaller the country, the longer the speech," Mulroney said, recalling George H.W. Bush's words after a lengthy oration by the leader of Iceland.
Mulroney continued by pointing out George H.W. Bush's accomplishments both on the world stage and at home -- the first Gulf War, NAFTA and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
He ended by reminiscing about a meeting between him and George H.W. Bush at the family's home in Maine, where the former president told him that he and his wife were happy and couldn't have asked for a better life.
Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson recalled George H.W. Bush's generosity and humor during Simpson's more tumultuous times, joking that he propped him up against the advice of many people.
"He was a class act, from birth to death," Simpson said.
Simpson said George H.W. Bush put aside politics and did what was best for the country, despite outrage from his own party, using humor to remember what is truly important in life -- his family and his country.
Former President George W. Bush began his eulogy by recalling his father's efforts to keep the youthfulness of his life alive, even until the end.
"He vowed to live every day to the fullest," George W. Bush said, recalling his father's brushes with death.
George W. Bush remembered his father's empathy, tolerance, faith, thoughtfulness and humor.
"He could tease and needle, but never out of malice," George W. Bush said. "He placed value on a good joke, which is why he chose Simpson to speak."
He recounted the final words he spoke to his father on Friday, upon hearing the elder Bush had only minutes to live. He called and told George H.W. Bush that he had been a wonderful father.
"I love you, too," George W. Bush said, remembering his father's final words.
George W. Bush, who maintained his composure during most of the speech, became tearful when he began to close.
"In our grief, let us smile knowing that dad is hugging Robin and holding mom's hand again," George W. Bush said.
Leaving Washington one last time
At the conclusion of his state funeral, the casket of George H.W. Bush was carried to a waiting hearse as a band played "Hail to the Chief" and "Holy God We Praise Thy Name." The Bush family watched from the cathedral steps as troops saluted their former commander in chief.
The hearse carried the former president's body to Joint Base Andrews, where cannons were fired and a military band played "Hail to the Chief" and "Goin' Home" as the casket was put aboard Air Force One for the return trip to Houston.
George H.W. Bush will lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church after arriving at Ellington Field on Wednesday evening. His local funeral will happen Thursday, and he will be buried at his presidential library in College Station.
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