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President George H.W. Bush's life celebrated at National Cathedral

By
Nicholas Sakelaris and Allen Cone
President George H.W. Bush arrives at Texas A&M
The flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush is carried by a joint services military honor guard followed by family members at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on Thursday in College Station, Texas. Pool photo by Jeff Roberson/UPI

Dec. 5 (UPI) -- World leaders, members of Congress and those close to the family of George H.W. Bush gathered at the National Cathedral on Wednesday to honor the 41st president of the United States.

An honor guard transported Bush's casket from the Capitol to the cathedral for a midday ceremony, after lying in state since Monday night.

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In his eulogy, former president and son George W. Bush joked, fought back tears and spoke with pride about the life of his 94-year-old father. He said while it's a sad day, his father can now hug his daughter, Robin Bush, who died at age 3 and hold the hand of Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years.

He recalled the last time he spoke to his father on the phone, telling him how he was a great father. Then, Bush said his final words, "I love you, too."

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Bush lived a life of public service, which the 43rd president said set an example.

"Dad taught us that public service is noble and necessary," he said. "He strongly believed that it was important to give back to the community and country in which one lived."

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Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who had a long-lasting bond with Bush, delivered an impassioned eulogy and talked about their times as leaders of their respective countries.

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"Let me tell you that when George Bush was president of the United States of America, every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentlemen, a genuine leader. One who was distinguished, resolute and brave," Mulroney said.

As his flag-draped casket lay before all five living U.S. presidents, members of Congress, world leaders and other family members, Bush historian Jon Meacham said the 41st president often wondered why he survived when fellow crew members died when his plane crashed in the Pacific during World War II.

Meacham recounted how Bush waited for his crew members to bail out before he did. When he jumped, his head smacked the tail of the plane -- and he hit the water and bobbed to the surface before reaching a raft. The then-20-year-old Lt. Bush realized none of his crew survived.

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"His head bleeding, his eyes burning, his mouth and throat raw from salt water -- the future 41st president of the United States was alone," Meacham said. "He felt the weight of responsibility as a nearly physical burden and we wept."

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The future president was rescued by a submarine.

The question haunted him, "Why was I spared?"

"The rest of his life was a perennial effort to prove himself worthy of salvation on that morning," Meacham said.

"If we listen closely enough, we can hear that heartbeat even now, for it is the heartbeat of a lion," Meacham said. "A lion who not only led us but who loved us. That's why him. That's why he was spared."

George W. Bush said his father thought about his fellow crew members throughout his life. Bush actually had two brushes with death, citing a staph infection he had as a child.

"I think those brushes with death made him cherish the gift of life and he vowed to live every day to the fullest," George W. Bush said.

President Donald Trump and all four living former presidents -- George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter -- were there. A who's who of world leaders were also in attendance -- including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former British Prime Minister John Major and Prince Charles, King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan, Australian Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, Polish President Andrzej Duda and Abdulla bin Hamad al-Khalifa, prince of Bahrain.

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The funeral also featured several musical performances. Musician Michael W. Smith performed his song "Friends" to honor the man who was president and his friend. The stirring rendition was backed by a full orchestra and 150-person choir.

Bush is the fourth U.S. president to have a state funeral at the National Cathedral after Dwight Eisenhower in 1969, Ronald Reagan in 2004 and Gerald Ford in 2007. Woodrow Wilson was buried there.

Following the funeral, Bush's casket was flown to Ellington Field in Houston aboard the plane normally used by presidents, called Air Force One, and renamed "Special Mission 41."

At the airport, those in attendance included past and present members of Houston's professional sports teams.

The motorcade drove to St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston and a military band played as pallbearers carried the flag-draped casket.

Bush will lie in repose until 6 a.m. Central time Thursday at the church where the Bush family regularly attended services for decades.

During an invitation-only service at St. Martin's scheduled for 10 a.m. Central, there will be two eulogies -- James Baker, Bush's former secretary of state and longtime confidant, and Bush's grandson George P. Bush, who is the Texas land commissioner.

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Bush will be transported by a special locomotive, No. 4141, with burial at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station alongside former first lady Barbara Bush and the couple's late daughter, Robin. "Special Mission 41" passed over the library en route to Houston.

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