A FINAL SALUTE
Thousands pay respects along Bush funeral train route
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — 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 at his presidential library 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 a 420,000- pound 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 somber 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,” said Baker.
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 traveled about 70 miles 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 3.
In the town of Cypress, 55- year- old 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 discolored.
“It’s something we’ll always keep,” Allen said.
The train arrived in 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 tan dress uniforms with jackets and ties and knee- high boots waited for hours on a cold, gray day to line the road — known as Barbara Bush Drive— to the Bush library’s front doors. The Navy conducted a 21 strike fighter flyover, a salute to the World War II 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 favorites. 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.”
Firefighters stand on their truck and salute with other attendants on an overpass Thursday as the train carrying the body of former President George H. W. Bush travels past on the way to Bush’s interment in Spring, Texas.
The flag- draped casket of former President George H. W. Bush passes through Magnolia, Texas, on Thursday along the route from Spring to College Station, Texas, as a crowd gathers to watch.