Washington prepares for the solemnity and pomp of a state funeral for George H.W. Bush

Laura King
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — It’s been more than a decade since the nation’s capital conducted the grand and solemn ritual of bidding a final farewell to a former president.

Now Washington is caught up in elaborate preparations for the state funeral this week of George H.W. Bush, the nation’s 41st president, who died Friday at 94.

Four days of observances will showcase a complex interplay of politics and pageantry, sentiment and stateliness, public mourning and private grief before the late president — he was also a vice president, member of Congress, CIA director, diplomat and war hero — is laid to rest.

The late president’s coffin will be brought from his home in Houston to Joint Base Andrews near Washington aboard the plane called Air Force One when the president is aboard. Family and staff are likely to accompany the body.

Bush’s body will be taken to the U.S. Capitol, where members of Congress will stage an arrival ceremony before public viewing begins Monday night. Bush will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Wednesday morning, followed by a funeral at Washington National Cathedral.

President Donald Trump has declared Wednesday a national day of mourning, closing executive departments and federal agencies for the day, and gave the order for U.S. flags to fly at half-staff on public buildings for 30 days.

Trump: The last state funeral — they are reserved for current and former presidents or other officials the president designates — was held in January 2007 for former President Gerald Ford. Americans got a vivid reminder of one after John McCain, the longtime Republican senator from Arizona, died in August. A memorial service at Washington National Cathedral carried many of the ceremonial trappings of a state funeral.

Trump, who had repeatedly clashed with McCain and mocked his years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, was not invited to that service, which brought several former presidents together.

Trump also stayed away in April when Bush’s wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush, was laid to rest in Houston, although Trump’s wife, Melania, attended.

Trump will be at Bush’s funeral, the White House said — with the Bush family’s apparent blessing despite Trump’s barbed comments about Bush over the years and relentless mocking of his son, Jeb Bush, during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Bush associates said the exclusion of a sitting president from an occasion as solemn and protocol-laden as a state funeral would have been out of keeping with the character of a man who was hailed for his dignity and graciousness.

State funerals are highly choreographed, but as with ordinary funerals, the family can incorporate personal touches to evoke particular aspects of the life being honored. The Bush family will decide who speaks at the service, the music played and the route taken by the funeral procession.

The late president is to be buried at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. He will lie alongside his wife and a daughter — Pauline Robinson, nicknamed Robin — who died of leukemia at the age of 3.

Tributes: Tributes continued to pour in Sunday for Bush, whose one term in the Oval Office from 1989 to 1993 coincided with the highly fraught geopolitics at the end of the Cold War. Many of the remembrances, however, focused on his personal attributes.

“He was a man of great capacity. He was a man of great tenderness and sensitivity. He was, as someone said, the last gentleman that we’ve had as president,” his friend James A. Baker III, who was secretary of state under Bush, said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

The week’s ceremonial centerpiece, the National Cathedral funeral, is part of a larger series of events that will include additional memorials in Texas before the burial.

Details of the Washington ceremonies were still being worked out Sunday and updated on a website set up to commemorate Bush’s life,

In light of Bush’s military service record — as a Navy pilot, he was shot down over the Pacific in 1944 — commemorations will likely involve honor guards drawn from the armed services and performances by military bands. A military-civilian task force was making the arrangements Sunday.