WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump has ordered the federal government closed today for a national day of mourning for former President George H.W. Bush.
Also starting today Flags on public buildings will be flying at half-staff for the next 30 days.
On Tuesday, soldiers, citizens in wheelchairs and long lines of others on foot wound through the hushed Capitol Rotunda to view George H.W. Bush’s casket and remember a president whose legacy included World War military service and a landmark law affirming the rights of the disabled. Bob Dole, a compatriot in war, peace and political struggle, steadied himself out of his wheelchair and saluted his old friend and one-time rival.
As at notable moments in his life, Bush brought together Republicans and Democrats in his death, and not only the VIPs.
Members of the public who never voted for the man waited in the same long lines as the rest, attesting that Bush possessed the dignity and grace that deserved to be remembered by their presence on a cold overcast day in the capital.
“I’m just here to pay my respects,” said Jane Hernandez, a retired physician in the heavily Democratic city and suburbs. “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.”
Bush’s death reduces membership in the ex-presidents’ club to four: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
As visitors filed by to pay their respects, Bush’s service dog, Sully, sat by the casket.
The CIA also honored Bush, the only spy chief to become president, as three agency directors past and present joined the public in the viewing.
Although Trump will attend Bush’s national funeral service Wednesday, he is not among the eulogists announced by the Bush family, a list that includes the late president’s son, former President George W. Bush. The others are Alan Simpson, the former senator and acerbic wit from Wyoming, Brian Mulroney, the former Canadian prime minister who also gave a eulogy for Ronald Reagan; and presidential historian Jon Meacham.
People lined up before dawn to pay respects to the 41st president, a son and father of privilege now celebrated by everyday citizens for his common courtesies and depth of experience.
“He was so qualified, and I think he was just a decent man,” said Sharon Terry, touring Washington with friends from an Indianapolis garden club. Said her friend Sue Miller, also in line for the viewing: “I actually think I underestimated him when he was in office. My opinion of him went up seeing how he conducted himself as a statesman afterward.”
Inside the Capitol, Sully, the 2-year-old Labrador retriever assigned to Bush, sat by the casket in the company of people who came to commemorate Bush’s signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 1990 law that, among its many provisions, required businesses that prohibit pets to give access to service dogs.
They were fellow World War II veterans, Republican Party leaders, fierce rivals for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination won by Bush and skilled negotiators. Dole, an Army veteran hit by German machine gunfire in Italy, has gone through life with a disabled right arm. Bush, a Navy pilot, survived a bail-out from his stricken aircraft over the Pacific and an earlier crash landing.
On Tuesday Dole was helped out of his wheelchair by an aide, slowly steadied himself and saluted Bush with his left hand, his chin quivering.
After services in Washington, Bush’s remains will be returned to Houston to lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church before burial Thursday at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station. His final resting place will be alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years who died in April, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia in 1953 at age 3.