‘A great-soldier statesman’: US bids farewell to George HW Bush

State funeral held for the 41st president of the United States who died on Friday at the age of 94.

The United States bid farewell to former President George HW Bush on Wednesday in a state funeral that brought together world dignitaries, US leaders and the 41st president’s friends and family. 

The funeral began with a procession from the US Capitol to the National Cathedral.

All four living former US presidents, current President Donald Trump and several world leaders attended the service in Washington, DC. 

“To his very last days, dad’s life was instructive,” George W Bush said in his eulogy to his father. 

“He taught us how to grow with dignity, humour and kindness. And when the good Lord finally called – how to meet him with courage and with the joy of the promise of what lies ahead,” he added. “Through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter could have.”

Bush was “the last great-soldier statesman”, historian Jon Meacham said in his eulogy, “our shield” in dangerous times. On a lighter note, he added that Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin. Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply cracked, “Never know. Gotta ask.”

Wednesday’s funeral caps off three days of remembrance of the Republican president who oversaw the post-Cold War transition and led the US during the Gulf War, only to lose re-election in a generational shift to Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992. 

“America has lost a patriot and humble servant in George Herbert Walker Bush. While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude,” former President Barack Obama said after Bush’s death on Friday. 

During a Capitol ceremony on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Bush, who died at the age of 94, was a “humble servant who loved his fellow citizens”. 

Trump, whose relationship with the Bush family has been tense, put differences aside, hailing Bush’s “sound judgement, common sense and unflappable leadership”. 

Bush served as US ambassador to the UN in the 1970s (AP Photo) [Daylife]

The son of a wealthy Republican US Senator, Bush served in the second world war and was elected to two terms in the US Congress in the 1960s.

President Richard Nixon became Bush’s mentor, appointing him ambassador to the United Nations in 1970.

While Nixon later resigned in disgrace, Bush went on to become head of the CIA in 1976.

He served as Ronald Reagan’s vice president for eight years, before entering the White House in 1989, pledging to make the US a “kinder, gentler” nation.

President George HW Bush being sworn into office as the 41st president of the United States by Chief Justice William Rehnquist [File: Bob Daugherty/AP Photo] 

Bush served as president from 1989 to 1993, with the successful campaign to drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait as his most significant accomplishment. He also ushered in the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was later ratified under Clinton. Bush also signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.  

His popularity quickly faded due to issues at home, setting up his election loss in 1992.  


Mixed legacy

Many citizens made their way to the US Capitol over the past three days to pay their respects to the late president. 

“He was so qualified, and I think he was just a decent man,” Sharon Terry, who stood in line for the viewing in the US Capitol, told the Associated Press. 

Jane Hernandez, who also stood in line, said: “I’m just here to pay my respects. I wasn’t the biggest fan of his presidency, but all in all he was a good, sincere guy doing a really hard job as best he could.”

Republican presidential candidate George W Bush listens to his father, former president George HW Bush, during a 2000 campaign event [File: Rick Wilking/Reuters] 

Others challenged Bush on his policies during his presidency. Steven Thrasher, a doctoral candidate in American Studies at New York University, noted in the Nation that the irony was not lost on many in the LGBT community who woke up to the news that Bush had died on World AIDS Day.  

Protesters walk outside the White House in Washington, DC to demonstrate against President Bush’s response to AIDS [File: Charles Tasnadi/AP Photo]

“As director of the CIA, vice president, and then president, Bush exacerbated the material conditions that allow AIDS to flourish in the first place,” Thrasher wrote. 

Thrasher pointed to the October 1991 march when HIV/AIDS activists and their supporters marched to the White House and threw the ashes of individuals who died from AIDS on the building’s lawn. 

Urvashi Vaid, who headed the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force through much of the Bush presidency, told NPR that the “Bush presidency on HIV/AIDS was mixed at best, and marked by calculated indifference at worst.”

Abroad, Bush is celebrated in Kuwait and elsewhere for the success of the Gulf War, but criticised by others for the toll the war took on civilians. The war would also prompt the beginning of an unprecedented era of US military adventurism in the Middle East.

Trump ordered the federal government closed on Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.

After Wednesday’s funeral, Bush’s remains will be flown to Houston, Texas to lie in repose before burial on Thursday in his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station. The late Bush’s final resting place will be alongside Barbara, his wife of 73 years who died in April, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukaemia in 1953 at the age of three.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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