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Washington sets aside divisions as US bids farewell to Bush

Washington sets aside divisions as US bids farewell to Bush

Former US president George W. Bush speaks at the State Funeral for his father, former US president George H.W. Bush, at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. (Alex Brandon/POOL/AFP)

WASHINGTON: A divided Washington led by the nation's five living presidents put on a show of unity on Wednesday (Dec 5) at the state funeral of George H.W. Bush, as America bade farewell to its 41st president.

Donald and Melania Trump shared a front row pew in the National Cathedral with past presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and their wives as an honor guard brought Bush's flag-draped casket into the prayer hall filled with dignitaries.

(L to R): President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, former president Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, former president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton during a State Funeral for former president George H.W. Bush. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

George W. Bush tapped the casket twice when he walked up to deliver a rousing eulogy, fighting through tears as he sang the praises of his father and predecessor as commander-in-chief, who died on Friday at age 94.

"He showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage, and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country," Bush said.

"He was born with just two settings - full throttle, then sleep," Bush said. "To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light," he added in reference to his father's signature call to volunteerism.

"When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States."

Bush's eulogy followed an uplifting performance by Irish tenor Ronan Tynan - a friend of H.W. who sang to him in his dying hours.

Wednesday's funeral capped a national homage that saw Bush lie in state in the US Capitol rotunda, where tens of thousands quietly filed in to pay respects to a man who steered the nation through turbulent times including the end of the Cold War - and in a style dramatically different to the combative current president.

Since Bush's death, Trump has traded his usual provocative posture for one of respect and solemnity, tweeting before heading to the cathedral about "a day of celebration for a great man."

But at the funeral, Trump and his Democratic predecessors appeared locked in an uneasy truce.

Trump arrived and shook hands with Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama.

But his greetings stopped there, and the body language turned cold as he failed to acknowledge Hillary Clinton, his defeated Democratic rival in 2016.

Clinton stared straight ahead and the two made no eye contact.

It was a dramatic contrast when George W. Bush arrived minutes later and shook hands with the current and past presidents and their wives - and handed Michelle Obama a piece of candy, as he did during the memorial service for senator John McCain in the same cathedral in September.

Bells tolled while the casket was carried down the aisle, as dignitaries including Britain's Prince Charles, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Polish president Lech Walesa, and former US vice presidents and cabinet officials looked on.

Britain's Prince Charles (second from left, back row) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (second from left, bottom row) are shown seated during a State Funeral for former President George H.W. Bush. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Precision, patriotic ritual, and ceremony ruled the day. The Bushes and congressional leaders stood outside the US Capitol with hands on hearts as Bush's casket was carried out to a 21-gun salute.

The flag-draped casket of former president George H. W. Bush is carried by a joint services military honour guard down the steps of the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Pennsylvania Avenue was lined with well-wishers as the cortege proceeded toward the Neo-Gothic cathedral in the first presidential funeral since Gerald Ford died in 2006.

The hearse bearing the casket of former president George H.W. Bush leaves the Capitol on the way to a State Funeral at Washington National Cathedral. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Earlier, tens of thousands of Americans had quietly filed in to the Capitol to pay their respects to a man who steered the nation through turbulent times including the end of the Cold War - and in a style dramatically different to the combative current president.

Mourners file into the Washington National Cathedral before the State Funeral for former president George H.W. Bush in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

'STAY THE COURSE'

Bush was a decorated World War II aviator who nearly lost his life when he was shot down on a bombing mission.

He served as a congressman, envoy to China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and vice president to Ronald Reagan before winning the White House.

Trump's ascendancy to the head of the Republican Party saw him exchange vitriolic attacks with the Bushes, notably slamming the presidential son's 2003 invasion of Iraq and mocking candidate Jeb Bush during the Republican primaries.

Bush Sr meanwhile branded Trump a "blowhard," and revealed he did not vote for him.

At a time of political fissures, admirers of the 41st US president looked to him this week as a dedicated servant of country who aimed to do good and bridge political divides.

"His life code, as he said, was tell the truth, don't blame people, be strong, do your best, try hard, forgive, stay the course," presidential historian Jon Meacham told Wednesday's service.

Afterwards, the presidential aircraft carried Bush and family on his final journey from Washington back to Texas, touching down in Houston at 5.00pm (7.00am Singapore time Thursday).

He will lie in repose at St Martin's Episcopal Church, where the Bushes worshipped for decades, until he is buried on Thursday.

Bush will be interred at his presidential library in College Station, Texas, next to his wife, who died in April, and their daughter Robin who died of leukemia at age three.

"In our grief," his son George said, "let us smile knowing that Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom's hand again."

Source: AFP/de

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