A national day of mourning: Remembering President George H.W. Bush

The Bush family walks past the casket of former President George H.W. Bush as he lies in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Morry Gash via AP, Pool)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The life of George H.W. Bush will be honored Wednesday in his funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Since his death Friday at age 94, Bush has been remembered by friends, family, political foes, colleagues and international leaders. Queen Elizabeth, who knighted Bush in 1993 and was reportedly a distant cousin to the late president, called him “a patriot, serving his country with honor and distinction in office and during the Second World War.”

“Here lies a great man,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is remarks at the Capitol on Tuesday. “A gentle soul. … His legacy is grace perfected.”
His remains were transported from his adopted hometown of Houston on Monday by the Air Force One plane normally used by current President Donald Trump, its name temporarily changed to Mission 41. He was carried to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Wednesday morning. Americans lined up through the night on Monday and Tuesday to pay their last respects.

His family, led by former President George W. Bush, attended a service at the Capitol surrounded by mourners from Congress and the Trumps. Donald Trump saluted the casket of his commander-in-chief predecessor. On Tuesday, former Majority Leader Bob Dole, 95, was helped to stand from his wheelchair to offer a salute to Bush’s casket.

The younger Bush will deliver the eulogy at his father’s Wednesday funeral, as will Canada’s former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Among the many dignitaries expected to be in attendance with the Bush family Wednesday are the Trumps, former President Bill Clinton with his wife Hillary Clinton, Prince Charles and Michelle Obama.

In 1942, 18-year-old George Herbert Walker Bush was so moved by the attack on Pearl Harbor that he decided to quit college and enlist in the Navy, over the objections of his parents Prescott and Dorothy Walker Bush. He moved quickly through the ranks, eventually being selected to be an officer. In September 1944, at age 20, he was shot down over the Pacific Ocean while completing a bombing run against a Japanese radio tower. Eight others who were shot down in that mission were captured and executed. Flying 58 missions, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery. After the war, he resumed his education at Yale and married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Pierce.

When he returned from World War II, he found success in Texas oil fields, where he had settled down with his wife and first child, George W. They raised five children. His humanitarian work and political savvy helped change the landscape of Texas politics.

He won a seat in the U.S. House in 1966, and was appointed to be U.N. ambassador under President Richard Nixon, and later to head the Central Intelligence Agency under President Gerald Ford in 1975.

Elected vice president with President Ronald Regan in 1980, Bush won the White House by a landslide in 1988 with 40 states in his column. He was the man who sought a “kinder and gentler nation” and was the popular leader of a mighty coalition that dislodged Iraq from Kuwait.

The Persian Gulf War — dubbed “Operation Desert Storm” — was his greatest mark on history. In a January 2011 interview marking the war’s 20th anniversary, he said the mission sent a message that “the United States was willing to use force way across the world, even in that part of the world where those countries over there thought we never would intervene.

“I think it was a signature historical event,” he added. “And I think it will always be.”

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Bush quickly began building an international military coalition that included other Arab states. After freeing Kuwait, he rejected suggestions that the U.S. carry the offensive to Baghdad, choosing to end the hostilities a mere 100 hours after the start of the ground offensive.

“That wasn’t our objective,” he said. “The good thing about it is there was so much less loss of human life than had been predicted, and indeed than we might have feared.”

But the decisive military defeat did not lead to the regime’s downfall, as many in the administration had hoped. He was defeated in his bid for re-election in 1993 by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

History has marked Bush as a work-hard, play-hard leader with humanitarian vision. He held more news conferences in most months than his predecessor Reagan did in most years. He called on Americans to volunteer their time for good causes — an effort he said would create “a thousand points of light.” He became only the second president to see his son elected to the White House, when George W. was elected as the 43rd president of the United States.

Bush met his wife, Barbara, at a Christmas dance when they were teenagers. They were married for 73 years, becoming the longest-married couple in presidential history. He will be buried on Thursday beside her at his Presidential Library at Texas A&M University with their daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, when George W. Bush was president, Bush 41 wrote a letter of support to Bush 43, signing it, “Remember Robin’s words ‘I love you more than tongue can tell,’” he wrote. “Well, I do.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.