National

President Bush’s final farewell to Washington

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The Washington Post

As the sun set Monday over Washington, the flag-covered casket of former president George H.W. Bush was carefully, slowly carried up the stairs of the U.S. Capitol and into the grand rotunda. There, mourners in dark clothes gathered to say goodbye to the former Navy pilot, vice president and commander in chief who died Nov. 30 at the age of 94.

Former president George W. Bush, who took office in the White House eight years after his father left it, received the statesman.

Cover photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post

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The Washington Post

Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post

Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post

Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post

Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post

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The Washington Post

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Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Bush’s casket rested upon a pine catafalque draped in black, the same structure upon which Abraham Lincoln lay in state. He was the first president to do so.

It had been 12 years since Washington’s leadership came together to mourn a former president as he lay in state. That honor is reserved for past presidents and members of Congress. On Monday, Bush became the 32nd public servant to earn the distinguished farewell — and the 12th chief executive.

His five living children, one a former president and another a former governor, sat side by side in the rotunda, a reminder of the political legacy Bush leaves behind.

Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was the first to speak. He took the room back to 1989, when Bush made his first presidential address during his inauguration on the west steps of the U.S. Capitol. “Today,” McConnell said, “this hero has returned to the Capitol a final time.”

McConnell called Bush a “humble servant” and said he made history as the Navy’s youngest flying officer when he joined up at 18. His plane was later hit during a bombing run off the coast of Japan. “Only once he accomplished his mission did he parachute out over the Pacific,” McConnell said.

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The Washington Post

Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Melina Mara/The Washington Post

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) spoke next, sharing his “personal debt of gratitude” to the late president. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign was the first in which a young Ryan got involved.

The one-term president was “a great leader and a good man, a gentle soul of firm resolve,” Ryan said. “He showed us that how we live is as important as what we achieve.”

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The Washington Post

Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Most touching was an anecdote shared by Vice President Pence, who wrote the former president earlier this year when his son — a Marine aviator — landed on the USS George H.W. Bush. “I didn’t write him as a vice president to former president,” Pence said, “but as a proud dad of a Marine aviator to a former Navy pilot.”

Pence asked for a signed copy of a photo of the flight deck and was gently turned down by staff. Then in August, just before Pence’s son got his wings, the signed photograph appeared — along with a handwritten letter from Bush himself.

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The Washington Post

The acronym CAVU, Pence went on to explain, is a term used by Navy pilots since World War II. It stands for “ceiling and visibility unlimited,” the kind of clear-skied flying conditions aviators hope for. In a letter to his children, Bush once wrote that CAVU “describes my own life as it’s been over the years and as it is right now.”

“You know that may well describe the essence of this man,” Pence said, “and that may well have been his vision, the vision for his life, for his children, his children’s children and his country: no barriers, no boundaries, no limits.”

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Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

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Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

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After the family left and the rotunda cleared out, the public viewing began, a chance for anyone who wishes to say goodbye to the 41st president. Late Monday, the first family visited the capitol to pay their respects. President Trump offered a salute, and first lady Melania Trump laid her hand on her heart.

The Washington Post

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Melina Mara/The Washington Post

The public viewing in the Rotunda continued Tuesday and will commence at 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, when Bush’s casket will be taken to the Washington National Cathedral for a formal service before returning to Texas for a train processional across the state. He will be buried at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Tex.

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Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Melina Mara/The Washington Post