‘He was ready for heaven’

Former U.S. pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush laid to rest be­side wife, daugh­ter who died at 3

Kingston Whig-Standard - - WORLD NEWS - NOMAAN MER­CHANT, JUAN A. LOZANO and WILL WEIS­SERT

HOUS­TON — Thou­sands waved and cheered along the route as fu­neral train No. 4141 — for the 41st pres­i­dent — car­ried Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s re­mains to their fi­nal rest­ing place on Thurs­day, his last jour­ney as a week of na­tional re­mem­brance took on a de­cid­edly per­sonal feel in an emo­tional home state farewell.

Some peo­ple laid coins along the tracks that wound through small-town Texas so the lo­co­mo­tive pulling the na­tion’s first fu­neral train in nearly half a cen­tury could crunch them into sou­venirs. Oth­ers snapped pic­tures or crowded for views so close that po­lice he­li­copters over­head had to warn them back. Ele­men­tary stu­dents hoisted a ban­ner sim­ply read­ing “THANK YOU.”

The scenes rem­i­nis­cent of a by­gone era fol­lowed a se­ri­ous and more som­bre tone at an ear­lier fu­neral ser­vice at a Hous­ton church, where Bush’s former sec­re­tary of state and con­fi­dant for decades, James Baker, ad­dressed him as “jefe,” Span­ish for “boss.” At times chok­ing back tears, Baker praised Bush as “a beau­ti­ful hu­man be­ing” who had “the courage of a war­rior. But when the time came for pru­dence, he main­tained the greater courage of a peace­maker.”

Baker also pro­vided a con­trast with to­day’s di­vi­sive po­lit­i­cal rhetoric, say­ing that Bush’s “wish for a kinder, gen­tler na­tion was not a cyn­i­cal po­lit­i­cal slo­gan. It came hon­est and un­guarded from his soul.”

“The world be­came a bet­ter place be­cause Ge­orge Bush oc­cu­pied the White House for four years,” Baker said.

As the post-fu­neral mo­tor­cade car­ry­ing Bush’s re­mains later sped down a closed high­way from the church to the train sta­tion, con­struc­tion work­ers on all lev­els of an un­fin­ished build­ing paused to watch. A man sit­ting on a fer­ris wheel near the aquar­ium waved.

Bush’s body was later loaded onto a spe­cial train fit­ted with clear sides so peo­ple could catch a glimpse of the cas­ket as it rum­bled by. The train trav­elled about 112 km in two-plus hours — the first pres­i­den­tial fu­neral train jour­ney since Dwight D. Eisen­hower’s re­mains went from Wash­ing­ton to his na­tive Kansas 49 years ago — to the fam­ily plot on the grounds of Bush’s pres­i­den­tial li­brary at Texas A&M Univer­sity. Bush’s fi­nal rest­ing place is along­side his wife, Bar­bara, and Robin Bush, the daugh­ter they lost to leukemia at age three.

In the town of Cy­press, 55-yearold Doug Allen left eight coins on the tracks be­fore the train passed — three quar­ters, three dimes and two pen­nies. The train left the coins flattened and slightly dis­coloured.

“It’s some­thing we’ll al­ways keep,” Allen said.

The train ar­rived at Col­lege Sta­tion in the late af­ter­noon with a mil­i­tary band play­ing Hail to the Chief and Texas A&M’s Ag­gie War Hymn.

About 2,100 cadets in their dress uni­forms with jack­ets and ties and knee-high boots waited for hours on a cold, grey day to line the road —known as Bar­bara Bush Drive— to the Bush li­brary’s front doors. The U.S. Navy con­ducted a 21 strike fighter fly­over, a salute to the Sec­ond World War Navy pi­lot, fol­lowed by a 21-gun can­non salute on the ground.

At the ear­lier ser­vice at Hous­ton’s St. Mar­tin’s Epis­co­pal Church, where Bush and his fam­ily reg­u­larly wor­shipped, the choir sang This is My Coun­try, which was also sung at Bush’s pres­i­den­tial in­au­gu­ra­tion in 1989. Those gath­ered heard a prayer stress­ing the im­por­tance of ser­vice and self­less­ness that the pres­i­dent him­self of­fered for the coun­try at the start of his term.

There were rous­ing ren­di­tions of the Bat­tle Hymn of the Re­pub­lic and On­ward Chris­tian Sol­diers, and also per­for­mances from some of Bush’s coun­try favourites. The Oak Ridge Boys re­called play­ing for him for decades — some­times at the White House — and joked that Bush “fan­cied him­self to be a good bass singer. He was not.” They then sang Amaz­ing Grace, and Reba McEn­tire of­fered a mu­si­cal ver­sion of The Lord’s Prayer.

In place of most fed­eral dig­ni­taries were top Hous­ton ath­letes in­clud­ing the NFL Tex­ans’ de­fen­sive end J.J. Watt — dis­play­ing Bush’s love for sports — and Chuck Nor­ris, who played TV’s “Walker, Texas Ranger.”

Grand­son Ge­orge P. Bush, the only mem­ber of the po­lit­i­cal dy­nasty still hold­ing elected of­fice, as Texas land com­mis­sioner, used a eu­logy to praise the man the younger gen­er­a­tions called “gampy.”

“He left a sim­ple, yet pro­found legacy to his chil­dren, to his grand­chil­dren and to his coun­try: ser­vice,” Ge­orge P. Bush said.

The church’s pas­tor, Rev. Rus­sell Leven­son, Jr., re­called the Bushes of­ten at­tend­ing ser­vices and of­fer­ing to give up their seats to oth­ers on days when the church was par­tic­u­larly crowded.

“He was ready for heaven and heaven was ready for him,” Leven­son said of Bush who was in de­clin­ing in health in re­cent years. The min­is­ter also sug­gested that when the former pres­i­dent died, he met his wife of 73 years in heaven and Bar­bara Bush play­fully de­manded, “What took you so long?”

In­deed, the fu­neral oc­curred at the same church where ser­vices were held in April for Bar­bara Bush. Those are re­mem­bered for an emo­tional scene when the former pres­i­dent gazed from his wheel­chair up at her cas­ket, then shook hands with well-wish­ers.

DAVID J. PHILLIP/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The flag-draped cas­ket of former U.S. pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush passes through Mag­no­lia, Texas, on Thurs­day. Bush was laid to rest be­side his wife Laura and daugh­ter Robin, who died at age three.

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