‘A first-class tribute’
The capital city prepares for the pageantry of a state funeral.
The casket bearing the late president George H.W. Bush will arrive at the U.S. Capitol Monday evening and will be on public display as the 41st president lies in state in the Rotunda until Wednesday morning, congressional leaders said.
Meanwhile, President Trump declared Wednesday a national day of mourning and ordered flags on all public buildings to be lowered to half-staff for the next 30 days. Executive departments and federal agencies will be closed Wednesday “as a mark of respect” for Bush, according to an executive order.
Under plans released Saturday night, the casket is to arrive at Washington National Cathedral at 11 a.m. Wednesday for a funeral service. Departure from the cathedral is to be at 12:30 p.m.
The announcements came as plans for the pageantry of a state funeral were set in motion Saturday, with the capital city and nation preparing to honor Bush through events in Texas and Washington. He died late Friday.
Since 1969, a joint task force of nearly 4,000 military and civilian personnel in the capital region has coordinated the apparatus involved in several days of carefully observed traditions, protocols and ceremonies for the public memorial to an American head of state.
“We, the men and women of the Department of Defense, are honored and proud to support the Bush family and will do so with the utmost respect,” Maj. Gen. Michael L. Howard of the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region said in a statement.
“This state funeral is a culmination of years of planning and rehearsal to ensure the support the military renders President Bush is nothing less than a first-class tribute.”
The last state funeral occurred 11 years ago, when Gerald R. Ford, the 38th president, lay in state at the Capitol in 2007.
Members of Congress will pay their respects in a bicameral arrival ceremony starting at 5 p.m. on Monday. Then the general public will be allowed to do the same beginning at 7:30 p.m., officials said. Public viewing will end at 7 a.m. Wednesday, Capitol Police said.
A spokesman for the Bush family, Jim McGrath, said on Twitter that funeral information would be posted on georgehwbush.com.
Though many details were not yet announced as of Saturday evening, the late president’s final journey is taking shape to follow a highly choreographed pattern that has taken years to perfect.
Planning for a state funeral begins the day a president is inaugurated, said retired Lt. Gen. Guy C. Swan, who commanded the U.S. Army military district of Washington and oversaw Ford’s memorial.
The bulk of the military operation is planned long in advance and rehearsed several times a year in coordination with Washington’s federal and local law enforcement agencies. It typically takes place in three phases.
“It is a multiagency effort that involves the Secret Service, D.C. police, U.S. Capitol Police, local police departments in Texas and lots of National Guard,” Swan said. “You name any law enforcement agency and they will have some role in this, providing security or transportation or escorting VIPS.”
When Ford died the day after Christmas in 2006, Swan said he boarded a military plane within hours to the former president’s California home while his deputy was setting things in motion at a Washington command center. Swan said Bush’s ceremony will probably begin at the 41st president’s home in Houston with private remembrances or prayers. Bush’s children have gathered there — including the 43rd president, George W. Bush, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
From there, the late president’s body is expected to be flown on Air Force One along with family and staff on Monday to Joint Base Andrews. Then the second phase begins. The public and government will be able to honor Bush at the Rotunda and the cathedral.
By tradition, presidential families have been able to personalize the event, choosing the sequence and location of observances, which can include a military parade or having a horse-drawn caisson to transport the casket. Every detail the family chooses, including the service speakers and the motorcade route, tells about the individual being remembered.
“A lot of former presidents keep the plans pretty modest because they know they are not the sitting head of state,” said Matthew Costello, senior historian at the White House Historical Association. “They add these personal touches to show who they were as people and how they want to be remembered.”
Former president Lyndon B. Johnson’s casket was brought into the Rotunda through the Senate entrance because he was an important Senate figure during his political career, Costello said. Typically, a late president’s remains enter the Capitol from the east, but former president Ronald Reagan wished to enter from the west.
“It’s speculated that he wanted to face and see California on his way in,” Costello said.
Ford’s body lay in state in the chamber of the House of Representatives before moving to the Rotunda, to symbolize his House service. As his casket was rolled out, the doors of the Senate were opened for Ford “to say goodbye” to the chamber over which he once presided as the nation’s vice president, Swan said.
The Ford family arranged for his motorcade to drive by the World War II Memorial on the way out of Washington in honor of his service in that conflict.
The third and final phase will take the late president to his final resting place. The tradition of burying a president’s remains at presidential libraries began with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Costello said.
Bush’s wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush, and their daughter, Pauline Robinson “Robin” Bush, who died of leukemia at age 3, were both laid to rest at the Bush presidential library at College Station on the campus of Texas A&M University.
“What the families want to do is use this very solemn occasion as a way to allow the nation to remember their” loved one, Swan said. “Each one of these is different.”
People look at a portrait of George H.W. Bush at the National Portrait Gallery on Saturday, a day after the 41st president’s death. President Trump declared Wednesday a national day of mourning as plans were set in motion for a state funeral that day.