WASHINGTON — It wasn’t just a salute to a president, it was a tribute to a generation.
President George H. W. Bush was remembered during more than two days of ceremonies and services in Washington as the last president forged from World War II, a leader dedicated to military service, bipartisanship, responsibility and hard choices.
“Dad taught us that public service is noble and necessary, that one can serve with integrity and hold true to the important values like faith and family,” former President George W. Bush said of his father at the funeral on Wednesday.
“When he lost, he shouldered the blame,” Bush added.
Bush spoke to an audience only sprinkled with other members of what’s been called “the greatest generation.” There are few left among Washington’s elite. Congress said goodbye to its last World War II veterans in 2015. In the audience was former Sen. Bob Dole, 95, a veteran of the same war, who on Tuesday rose from his wheelchair with assistance to salute Bush’s casket under the Capitol Rotunda. President Jimmy Carter, 94, who spent the war years at the Naval Academy, attended with his wife, Rosalynn.
“George Herbert Walker Bush was America’s last great soldier-statesman, a 20th century founding father,” historian Jon Meacham told the invitation-only crowd at Washington National Cathedral. “He governed with virtues that most closely resemble those of … men who believed in causes larger than themselves.”
Implicit in messages was the notion that some of those values are slipping from public life.
Listening in the front row were former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and President Donald Trump, none of whom fought in the wars of their time. Neither Clinton, Obama nor Trump served in the military.
Added former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney: “I believe it will be said that no occupant of the Oval Office was more courageous, more principled and more honourable than George Herbert Walker Bush.”
Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, 87, described Bush as “one of nature’s noblemen.”
“He often said: ‘When the really tough choices come, it’s the country, not me. Not about Democrats or Republicans, it’s for our country that I fought for.””
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Laurie Kellman, The Associated Press