Late President George H.W. Bush remembered for military career, legacy

CLAUDIA GRISALES AND NIKKI WENTLING

WASHINGTON – The late President George H.W. Bush was remembered Monday during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol for his military career, his leadership and his influence at the highest levels of government.

 

Following a tribute from congressional leaders and Vice President Mike Pence, hundreds of guests joined lines that snaked around the Capitol complex to be among the first wave of public visitors to pay their respects to the 41st president.

 

“Throughout his life of service, President Bush personified grace. His character was second to none,” outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said during the ceremony. “He was the first president I had the chance to vote for. And he was the first president to teach me that in a Democracy sometimes you fall short. And that how you handle that is just as important as how you win.”

 

The remembrance for Bush, who died Friday in Houston, drew together lawmakers, White House officials, Washington politicians, family and friends at the beginning of a weeklong set of events to honor the former president.

 

Ryan and Pence were among the elected officials in attendance who spoke in tribute to Bush’s legacy, which stretched beyond politics.

 

“He was a good man... who was devoted to his wife and family,” Pence said at the lying in state ceremony for Bush, whose wife, former First Lady Barbara Bush, died in April.

Bush, who led America into the Gulf War in 1990 during his single-term presidency, was also honored for his military service in World War II and his ability to connect with servicemembers in the years that followed.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talked of Bush’s days as a Navy pilot, when on Sept. 2, 1944, the then 20-year-old lieutenant saw his plane hit on a bombing mission. Through the fire and smoke, Bush remained steady at the controls and continued to pilot the plane. Eventually, he was forced to bail out of the aircraft and waited for four hours in an inflated raft in waters of the Pacific Ocean until he was rescued.

 

That steady resolve fueled his future leadership throughout various government posts and as commander in chief, McConnell said.

 

“George Bush was just a teenager when he volunteered for military service and became the Navy’s youngest aviator,” he said. “With his even temperament and hard-won expertise, George Herbert Walker Bush steered this country as straight as he steered that airplane. He kept us flying high and challenged us to fly higher still.”

 

The Bush family, including son and former 43rd President George W. Bush, his wife and former First Lady Laura Bush, former Florida governor and one-time presidential candidate Jeb Bush were among the family members in attendance for Monday’s ceremony.

 

They led a procession at the closing of the ceremony encircling the casket for the late president. They did not speak at the ceremony.

 

President Donald Trump, who has been critical of the Bush family, and First Lady Melania Trump paid their respects to Bush at the Capitol late Monday night separate from the official ceremony.

 

Trump arrived in the midst of the public visitation hours, halting the line for a few minutes as he and his wife visited the Capitol Rotunda. Public visitation hours began at 7:30 p.m. and were slated to continue until Wednesday at 8:45 a.m.

 

Kenneth and Wanda Deans, both 67, arrived from Alexandria, Va., at about 7 p.m., taking their place in a line that snaked down First Street on the east side of the Capitol.

Kenneth Deans, a retired Army chief warrant officer 4, wore his “Vietnam veteran” cap as he waited to honor Bush, his former commander in chief. Deans served 30 years in the Army, including through the Gulf War.

 

Deans’ job during the war was back at Fort Irwin in California, where troops trained before deployment. He remembers Bush visiting the base during that time, and the connection he felt with the president because he had also served in the military.

 

“When you have a president who’s also a hero from the war, and you’re in the military, you feel some kind of kinship,” Deans said.

 

The Deans said they were determined to visit the late president Monday because they hold high respect for the office, but particularly because they’re “very huge believers” in the Bushes, Wanda Deans said.

 

“They’ve always been very special to us,” she said. “They were both absolutely awesome…and very much supported the military.”

 

That sentiment was echoed by several military veterans and active servicemembers who visited the Capitol on Monday.

 

“It’s an honor to participate in things like this, to show our respect for presidents of the past,” said Navy Chief Ronald Ratliff, 44, who works at the Capitol. “It was [Bush’s] kindness that stands out to me.”

 

Richard Whelan, a 56-year-old retired Navy sailor of Brooklyn, N.Y., happen to be visiting family in Virginia when he decided Monday to come to the Capitol.

 

“I served in Desert Storm… I’m here out of respect,” Whelan said. Bush is remembered for “his modesty…his service to country and encouraging people to serve.”

 

Marine Corps Sgt. Tucker Gourneau, a 31-year-old from Texas, also was drawn to the Capitol on Monday for similar reasons.

“His military service and time as a Navy pilot” stand out, said Gourneau, who is now attending school in Northern Virginia. And “he played a tremendous role in the end of the Cold War.”

 

Timothy and Tracy Hall drove for more than four hours Monday from Durham, N.C. with their three young sons Peter, Stephen and Fritz. Retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Timothy Hall, 54, and his wife Tracy, 49, homeschool their sons and saw the trip as a historic, learning opportunity for their children.

 

“President Bush was such a wonderful statesman,” Tracy Hall said. “He worked with everybody. We were fortunate to live close enough to drive here.”

 

Timothy Hall served under Bush and his son, first during the Gulf War and then finally Afghanistan.

 

“I served under both Bushes, which is pretty cool,” Timothy Hall said.

 

A funeral service is slated for Bush at Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday at 11 a.m.

 

 
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