A hilltop cathedral in Washington filled with the global elite on Wednesday to remember President George H.W. Bush, a man whose characteristic modesty was belied one final time with all the pageantry of a state funeral.
For the last two days, Americans both powerful and ordinary have filed past Bush’s flag-draped casket in the Capitol Rotunda, paying their respects to a man who oversaw the end of the Cold War but who suffered defeat after one term.
To the strains of “Hail to the Chief,” the late president was carried from the Capitol and transported by hearse along streets lined with spectators braving bitter cold to the soaring National Cathedral, where 3,000 political leaders and family members were congregating to say goodbye.
Like all presidents, Bush oversaw plans for his own funeral starting years ago, updating the details as time went on so the ceremony would reflect his druthers. It’s the first presidential state funeral since Gerald Ford died in 2006.
Unlike some of his predecessors, Bush told advisers he did not want his ceremony to drag on endlessly, mindful of attendees’ time. Ninety minutes are blocked off, though typically these events extend past the allotted span.
Christian hymns will echo through the cathedral’s limestone arches, sung and played by military orchestras and choirs. In the crowd will sit Jordan’s King, Britain’s Prince of Wales, Germany’s Chancellor and Poland’s President.
The late president’s eldest son, former President George W. Bush, will deliver the final eulogy. He’ll be one of the five living US commanders-in-chief at the event; Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama will all attend along with President Donald Trump. It’s the first time all five men will convene face-to-face since Trump took office.
Bitter disputes between Trump and his predecessors have fractured the traditional presidents’ club. But those rifts were likely to be cast aside during Wednesday’s service. Trump greeted only his direct predecessor Obama before taking his seat and looking directly ahead.
The other eulogists include Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming; former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who also eulogized President Ronald Reagan in 2004; and presidential historian Jon Meacham, who wrote a biography of Bush.
After Irish tenor Ronan Tynan sings the final hymn, “Last full measure of devotion,” Bush’s casket will depart, returning eventually to his adopted hometown of Houston on the military aircraft known as Air Force One when a president is aboard.
He’ll be buried in his family plot at Texas A&M University in College Station on Thursday.
-Kevin Liptak reporting for CNN
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