Celebrating Heroes

A State Funeral for our 41st President, George H. W. Bush

On December 5, George H. W. Bush, America’s 41st president, was laid to rest. The former president has been celebrated in mainstream and social media coverage. The New York Times called him “a skilled bureaucratic and diplomatic player.” The Washington Post drew attention to both the ceremonial and intimate details of his funeral service.

The former president was honored at the Washington National Cathedral, where his casket was held on a catafalque, or bier, that held the caskets of Presidents Lincoln, Kennedy, and numerous others.

No Detail Too Small

According to The Washington Post, Bush included some personal touches in his state funeral plans. He was buried “wearing socks with planes flying in formation.” Beginning with his time as a World War II Navy pilot, Bush prized speed in all things. He also chose not to have his casket taken in a horse-drawn wagon, another detail that put his personal love of speed over ceremony.

Following his funeral in Washington, DC, Bush’s remains were flown to Houston, Texas. There, his casket was available for public viewing at his home church, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. Following a private service, the casket traveled via a specially-designed train to his Presidential Library on the Texas A&M campus in College Station, Texas.

The Bush 4141, a blue and white Union Pacific train designed to look like Air Force One, was built in 2005. President Bush himself drove the train for about 2 miles when it was first put on the tracks.

Bush’s burial concluded with a 21-plane flyover formation. One plane will leave the formation, representing the missing man. This tribute has been done for numerous presidents and fallen leaders, but takes on special meaning when done by pilots for a pilot.

A Funeral Fit for the President and the Man

Like most U.S. presidents before and since, Bush planned his own funeral upon election to the office. Matthew Costello of the White House Historical Association told The Washington Post that “it’s a conversation that starts early in a president’s tenure.”

“This is not your own private funeral. It’s so much bigger,” Costello said. “It represents so much more: who we are as Americans, the American character and how we’ve tried to define ourselves as unlike other countries, with our own rituals.”

One of those uniquely American traditions is the choice of burial location for presidents. Rather than being buried together, each president chooses his or her own final resting place. Many have opted for their own home or Presidential Library. Others, such as John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated before he was able to dictate his funeral plans, are buried in a nationally prominent location, such as Arlington National Cemetery.

George H. W. Bush’s choice to be buried at his Presidential Library in Texas signifies his own humanity and interests, as well as the significant role he had as our 41st president. His wife, Barbara Bush, is also buried at the George H. W. Bush Library and Museum, alongside their daughter, Robin, who died from leukemia as a young child.

Bush is best known for his lifelong commitment to public service. While in the White House, he established the Points of Light Foundation to promote volunteerism and public service. The Foundation invites all Americans to “honor the legacy of President George H. W. Bush by pledging your time to volunteer, becoming a point of light in your community.”

Members of the public will be able to sign an official condolence book at the White House Visitor Center.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Katie Begley

Katie Begley is a US Naval Academy graduate and former Surface Warfare Officer. In addition to being a military spouse, she is a freelance writer specializing in travel, education, and parenting subjects. Katie has worked in numerous communications roles for volunteer organizations and professionally for a local parenting magazine.

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