Bush fu­neral a farewell to ‘Great­est Gen­er­a­tion’

WWII a for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for many, in­clud­ing the 41st pres­i­dent

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page - Su­san Page

HOUS­TON – The fu­neral for Ge­orge H.W. Bush at his home­town church Thurs­day was a farewell to a friend, a neigh­bor and a for­mer pres­i­dent, to be sure. And to a gen­er­a­tion. “Ge­orge Bush was a char­ter mem­ber of the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion,” his clos­est friend, for­mer Sec­re­tary of State James Baker, de­clared in his eu­logy. “His in­cred­i­ble ser­vice to the na­tion and the world is al­ready etched in the mar­ble of time.”

A day ear­lier, at Wash­ing­ton’s Na­tional Cathe­dral, his­to­rian Jon Meacham called Bush “Amer­ica’s last great sol­dier-states­man, a 20th-cen­tury found­ing fa­ther,” one in a line of pres­i­dents “who be­lieved in causes larger than them­selves.” Bush was the last pres­i­dent to have served in com­bat.

It was au­thor and TV an­chor Tom Brokaw who dubbed it the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion, the Amer­i­cans who had sur­vived the Great De­pres­sion and then fought in World War II. That con­flict was the for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for many, in­clud­ing Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush, a son of priv­i­lege from Green­wich, Con­necti­cut. His de­ter­mi­na­tion to ac­com­plish some­thing big in his life, some­thing mean­ing­ful, was fu­eled when he sur­vived be­ing shot down over the Pa­cific and his two crew mem­bers didn’t.

Bush was one of the youngest Navy pi­lots when he en­listed on his 18th birth­day, in 1942. He ended up liv­ing to age 94, old enough to see many of the class­mates from his prep school and the men in his squadron and his col­leagues in Congress pass away.

He died last week at his home here, a few blocks from the spired church he had at­tended for a half-cen­tury.

At the Na­tional Cathe­dral ser­vice Wed­nes­day, for­mer Cana­dian Prime Minister Brian Mul­roney de­scribed a small wooden plaque Bush once showed him on the ocean­side wall of his sum­mer home in Ken­neb­unkport, Maine. It was in­scribed with a pilot’s acro­nym that summed up his ap­proach to life: “CAVU,” for “Ceil­ing and Vis­i­bil­ity Un­lim­ited.”

At the St. Martin’s Epis­co­pal Church ser­vice Thurs­day, the friend who made the plaque was sit­ting in the pews.

Dan Gill­crist was a junior busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive and a for­mer sub­mariner when he vol­un­teered for Bush’s early Se­nate cam­paign, a travel aide to the can­di­date as he criss­crossed the state. Years later, when they saw each other at the fu­neral for an­other Navy man, Bush ad­mired the CAVU sign placed near his cas­ket and asked Gill­crist, an ama­teur wood crafts­man, to make one for him.

Gill­crist ended up mak­ing sev­eral of them for Bush over the next decade or so to dis­play in his homes and give as gifts to for­eign dig­ni­taries and oth­ers. He un­der­stood why the phrase meant so much to the for­mer pres­i­dent.

“To the young Navy car­rier pilot Lt. j.g. Ge­orge H.W. Bush, the ex­pres­sion ‘CAVU’ took on greater mean­ing fol­low­ing the war,” Gill­crist said. “I be­lieve that a great many of our ‘boys’ com­ing home safe and sound from the cru­cible of that war felt the same as Ge­orge Bush.” They were grate­ful to have es­caped death when many of their friends didn’t. The les­son they learned: “Ev­ery new day is go­ing to be a gift I will not squan­der.”

The ser­vice at the cathe­dral Wed­nes­day had been grand and global, five pres­i­dents and dozens of for­eign dig­ni­taries in at­ten­dance.

The ser­vice at the church Thurs­day had a co­zier feel, though ev­ery seat was taken. The trib­utes were de­liv­ered by Baker and by Ge­orge P. Bush, his old­est grand­son and the one who car­ries his name.

“He of­ten talked about the time­less creed of duty, honor, coun­try – the val­ues that have sus­tained the repub­lic,” said Bush, now the land com­mis­sioner of Texas, the only grand­child who has fol­lowed the man he calls “Gamps” into elec­tive of­fice. “But that wasn’t some­thing he just talked about. It was some­thing he lived.”

Ge­orge H.W. Bush had moved back to Hous­ton af­ter the worst po­lit­i­cal de­feat of his life, crushed af­ter los­ing the White House to Bill Clin­ton, a man he then saw as un­de­serv­ing of the Oval Of­fice, al­though they later be­came close friends. When he and his wife, Bar­bara, landed at Elling­ton Air Force Base in late af­ter­noon on that dif­fi­cult In­au­gu­ra­tion Day in 1993, they had been cheered by the sight of store signs wel­com­ing them and well-wish­ers lin­ing the route to the house they had rented while a new one was be­ing built for them.

They never for­got one cou­ple stand­ing on the bed of their pickup, parked by the side of the road, hold­ing a hand­writ­ten sign that said “Wel­come Home.”

On Thurs­day, there were well-wish­ers again along the route of the spe­cial Union Pa­cific train that car­ried Bush’s cas­ket from sub­ur­ban Hous­ton to Col­lege Sta­tion, Texas.

Trains had pro­vided the trans­porta­tion for Bush when he left for avi­a­tor train­ing at var­i­ous naval bases, and when he came home af­ter see­ing com­bat for a war­time wed­ding to Bar­bara Pierce of Rye, New York. On Thurs­day, on his fi­nal jour­ney, it was a train that car­ried him to his burial plot near his pres­i­den­tial li­brary, on the grounds of Texas A & M. He was to be buried next to his wife of 73 years and daugh­ter Robin, who died in 1953 at age 3 of leukemia.

The night be­fore the Na­tional Cathe­dral ser­vice, when Bush’s body was ly­ing in re­pose at the Capi­tol Ro­tunda, there was the most poignant re­minder of the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion, and its pass­ing.

For­mer Kansas Sen. Bob Dole ar­rived in the Capi­tol Ro­tunda to pay his re­spects to a one-time po­lit­i­cal ri­val who be­came a close friend, and a fel­low vet­eran of World War II. The ef­fort it took for Dole, 95, to stand from his wheel­chair was etched in his face.

The wounds he had suf­fered in bat­tle so many decades ago robbed him of the use of his right arm. So he raised his left hand in a fi­nal salute.

For­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush watches at the con­clu­sion of the fu­neral Thurs­day for for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush at St. Martin’s Epis­co­pal Church in Hous­ton.

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