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Washington bids farewell to President George H.W. Bush

Family, friends, former presidents and foreign dignitaries gathered Wednesday to honor President George H.W. Bush at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Among those eulogizing the American war hero and political patriarch was his oldest son, President George W. Bush, who said his father believed "that one can serve with integrity and hold true to the important values like faith and family."

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A final farewell to a president.

    George H.W. Bush has gone home to Texas tonight after his state funeral here in Washington. Friends and family honored the president and the man with rites and remembrance.

    President George H.W. Bush began his last journey early today at the U.S. Capitol, accompanied by the Bush family and the melancholy chords of the U.S. Navy Band that set the tone on this National Day of Mourning.

    The 41st president's casket was driven through the heart of Washington, passing by the White House a final time, then arriving at the Washington National Cathedral for the invitation-only funeral.

    Outside, onlookers lined the street to pay their own respects.

  • Antoine Alford:

    President Bush was my commander in chief when I was in the military. So it was just fitting for me to come out and say goodbye to him.

  • Denise Cherry:

    You have to show honor to things that matter. And Mr. Bush mattered. So this is my way of saying that he mattered in my life.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Inside, a rare gathering of leaders and luminaries, led by President Trump and four former presidents, Cabinet secretaries, senators and Supreme Court justices.

    Over the next two hours, they celebrated George H.W. Bush with praise, humor and at times tears.

    Presidential Historian Jon Meacham recalled the moment that history might have taken a very different turn, when a young Navy pilot was shot down over the Pacific during World War II.

  • Jon Meacham:

    The future 41st president of the United States was alone. Sensing that his men had not made it, he was overcome.

    He felt the weight of responsibility as a nearly physical burden. And he wept. Then, at four minutes shy of noon, a submarine emerged to rescue the downed pilot. George Herbert Walker Bush was safe. The story, his story and ours, would go on by God's grace.

    Through the ensuing decades, President Bush would frequently ask, nearly daily, he'd ask himself, "Why me? Why was I spared?"

    And in a sense, the rest of his life was a perennial effort to prove himself worthy of his salvation on that distant morning.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mr. Bush, Meacham said, famously kept a frenetic pace, from speed golf to cigarette boats, and even to campaigning.

  • Jon Meacham:

    He never slowed down.

    On the primary campaign trail in New Hampshire once, he grabbed the hand of a department store mannequin, asking for votes. When he realized his mistake, he said, "Never know. Gotta ask."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meacham called Mr. Bush America's last great soldier-statesman, presiding over the fall of the Soviet Union, and rallying a coalition to fight the first Gulf War.

  • Jon Meacham:

    He stood in the breach in the Cold War against totalitarianism. He stood in the breach in Washington against unthinking partisanship.

    He stood in the breach against tyranny and discrimination.

    George Herbert Walker Bush, who survived that fiery fall into the waters of the Pacific three quarters of a century ago, made our lives and the lives of nations freer, better, warmer, and nobler.

    That was his mission. That was his heartbeat. And if we listen closely enough, we can hear that heartbeat even now, for it's the heartbeat of a lion, a lion who not only led us, but who loved us. That's why him. That's why he was spared.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The funeral drew world leaders past and present, including former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, whose term in office overlapped Mr. Bush's terms as president and vice president. He recalled one of their first encounters.

  • Brian Mulroney:

    At his first NATO meeting in Brussels, as the new American president, he sat opposite me, actually, that day.

    George was taking copious notes, as the heads of government spoke, ending only when the secretary-general of NATO firmly decreed a coffee break. George put down his pen, walked over to me and said, "Brian, I have just learned the fundamental principle of international affairs."

    I said, "What's that, George?"

    He said, "The smaller the country, the longer the speech."

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mulroney had special praise for the late president's dealings with Canada, including the trade deal ultimately signed by President Clinton, and more recently rejected by President Trump.

  • Brian Mulroney:

    President Bush was also responsible for the North American Free Trade Agreement, recently modernized and improved by new administrations, which created the largest and richest free trade area in the history of the world.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But aside from policy, the former prime minister remembered a friend and Labor Day weekends at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

  • Brian Mulroney:

    He led me down the porch at Walker's Point to the side of the house that fronts the ocean and pointed to a small, simple plaque that had been unobtrusively installed just some days earlier.

    It read C-A-V-U. George said, "Brian, this stands for ceiling and visibility unlimited. When I was a terrified 18- to 19-year-old pilot in the Pacific, those, those were the words we hoped to hear before takeoff. It meant perfect flying. And that's the way I feel about our life today, CAVU. Everything is perfect. Bar and I could not have asked for better lives. We are truly happy and truly at peace."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson was another close friend of Mr. Bush, a bond forged through decades together in Washington.

  • Former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.:

    And he was a man of such great humility. Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, D.C., are not bothered by heavy traffic.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Simpson fondly recalled nights that the two men and their wives spent together, enjoying plays and music.

  • Former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.:

    One night the four of us went to see Michael Crawford, singing the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

    All four of us were singing as we went back to the White House, don't cry for me, Argentina.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.:

    And tidbits from "Phantom of the Opera" and other magic of Webber.

    A few days later, he's getting hammered by the press for some extraordinarily petty bit of trivia. And suddenly he sings out, "Don't cry for me, Argentina."

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.:

    The press then wrote that he was finally losing his marbles.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The famed Simpson wit portrayed Mr. Bush as someone who loved a good joke, but who was so much more as well.

  • Former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.:

    He never lost his sense of humor. Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life. That's what humor is. He never hated anyone. He knew what his mother and my mother always knew: Hatred corrodes the container it's carried in.

    The most decent and honorable person I ever met was my friend George Bush, one of nature's noblemen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Perhaps the most poignant moments of the day came when the 43rd president, George W. Bush, rose to eulogize his father.

    He mixed humor and pathos, recalling a father of boundless energy and a zest for life.

  • Former President George W. Bush:

    At age 90, George H.W. Bush parachuted out of an aircraft and landed on the grounds of St. Ann's by the Sea in Kennebunkport, Maine, the church where his mom was married and where he worshiped often. Mother liked to say he chose the location just in case the chute didn't open.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Former President George W. Bush:

    In his 90s, he took great delight when his closest pal, James A. Baker, smuggled a bottle of Grey Goose vodka into his hospital room. Apparently, it paired well with the steak Baker had delivered from Morton's.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Former President George W. Bush:

    To his very last days, dad's life was instructive. As he aged, he taught us how to grow with dignity, humor and kindness, and when the good lord finally called, how to meet him with courage and with the joy of the promise of what lies ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The former president likewise paid tribute to his father's famous appeal for a kinder, gentler nation, and his call to volunteer.

  • Former President George W. Bush:

    Dad taught us that public service is noble and necessary, that one can serve with integrity and hold true to the important values like faith and family.

    He strongly believed that it was important to give back to the community and country in which one lived. He recognized that serving others enriched the giver's soul. To us, his was the brightest of the thousand points of light.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But he told of how the late president had faced darkness early in his family life, the loss of his daughter Robin to leukemia.

  • Former President George W. Bush:

    Jeb and I were too young to remember the pain and agony he and mom felt when our 3-year-old sister died. We only learned later that dad, a man of quiet faith, prayed for her daily. He was sustained by the love of the almighty, and the real and enduring love of our mom. Dad always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ultimately, the 43rd president painted the 41st as a public man of distinction and a private man of warmth, leaving a family to grieve a father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

  • Former President George W. Bush:

    He was firm in his principles, and supportive as we began to seek our own ways. He encouraged and comforted, but never steered.

    We tested his patience. I know I did.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Former President George W. Bush:

    But he always responded with the great gift of unconditional love.

    Last Friday, when I was told he had minutes to live, I called him. The guy who answered the phone said, "He — I think he can hear you, but he hasn't said anything for most of the day."

    I said, "Dad, I love you, and you've been a wonderful father."

    And the last words he would ever say on Earth were, "I love you, too."

    So, through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter could ask.

    And in our grief, let us smile, knowing that dad is hugging Robin and holding mom's hand again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The rector of the Bush family's home Episcopal Church in Houston was at the president's bedside in his final hours.

    The Reverend Russell Levenson delivered the homily today.

  • Reverend Dr. Russell Levenson Jr.:

    It was a beautiful end. It was a beautiful beginning.

    For a moment, but a moment only, that dear point of light we know as George Herbert Walker Bush dimmed. But it now shines brighter than it ever before has.

    So, Mr. President, mission complete. Well done, good and faithful servant. Welcome to your eternal home, where ceiling and visibility are unlimited, and life goes on forever.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The service concluded with Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, a Paralympian, singing The Lord's Prayer.

    (SINGING)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And the nationally televised service funeral came to a close.

  • MAN:

    Let us go forth in the name of Christ. Thanks be to God.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    With the benediction, a slow procession carried the flag-draped casket from the cathedral to a waiting motorcade.

    A departure ceremony followed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, including a 21-gun salute. And then President George H.W. Bush left Washington for the last time.

    The casket was flown to Houston, where Mr. Bush will lie in repose overnight at St. Martin's Episcopal Church. There's a private service tomorrow, with burial to follow, alongside his wife, Barbara, and daughter Robin, on his presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

    And just moments ago, the plane that has been dubbed Air Force Special Mission 41 landed in Houston with the Bush family to bring President Bush 41 home for this final time.

    The plane has landed. These are live pictures coming in from Houston from the airport there where the plane has landed, and they will wait to watch as he goes home.

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