'Special Air Mission 41' takes Bush Senior on his final flights

Sully, the service dog of former president George H. W. Bush in his final months, lying in front of his casket at the funeral home in Houston, Texas, yesterday.
Sully, the service dog of former president George H. W. Bush in his final months, lying in front of his casket at the funeral home in Houston, Texas, yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

State funeral in Washington to be followed by burial in Texas

HOUSTON • Solemn preparations were underway yesterday for America's national farewell to Mr George H. W. Bush, whose casket will be flown from Texas to Washington aboard a presidential aircraft to lie in state at the start of a days-long state homage.

The 41st president died last Friday, aged 94, at his home in Texas - "a very gentle and peaceful passing", his lifelong friend and adviser James Baker told ABC's This Week.

Singapore President Halimah Yacob, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong have written to Mr George W. Bush, the 43rd US president and son of the late president, to offer their condolences.

"As the first sitting United States president to make a state visit to Singapore in January 1992, he left an indelible mark on the bilateral relationship between our two countries," President Halimah said.

"The close and enduring partnership between Singapore and the US today bears testament to his leadership," she added.

In his letter, PM Lee said "President Bush represented the finest characteristics of the Greatest Generation".

ESM Goh called Mr Bush Senior "a man of incredible fortitude and immense conviction".

"More than that, he was a man with a big heart who always had a warm smile and kind word for all those around him," said Mr Goh.

To commemorate the first former president to die since Mr Gerald Ford in 2006, US officials have announced a detailed, four-day schedule of celebratory services and tribute.

To commemorate the first former president to die since Mr Gerald Ford in 2006, US officials have announced a detailed, four-day schedule of celebratory services and tribute, organised with military precision by the Pentagon task force charged with protecting the US capital, according to Agence France-Presse.

Its culmination will be a state funeral at Washington National Cathedral tomorrow, which President Donald Trump - who had often clashed with the more staid and centrist Bush family - has declared a national day of mourning.

The week's events began yesterday, when Mr Bush's remains were to be flown aboard the presidential Boeing 747 plane known as Air Force One - made available at Mr Trump's direction - from Houston to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

Mr Bush's spokesman Jim McGrath said the aircraft's flights to carry the 41st American president are being dubbed "Special Air Mission 41", as he announced the plane's arrival in Houston.

"A beautiful day In Texas - 'ceiling and visibility unlimited,' Mr President," he wrote, in reference to the aviation code phrase for a desirable situation, one used by Mr Bush's family and friends to spread the news of his death.

Mr Bush will lie in state in the Rotunda of the US Capitol from yesterday to tomorrow morning, under the watchful gaze of an around-the-clock honours guard.

The casket will then be transported to the cathedral for the funeral service - the fourth there of a former president.

Mr Trump has said he and wife Melania will attend. Dozens of foreign leaders and US luminaries are expected. Former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney told Politico he will deliver one of several eulogies at the service, at Mr Bush's request.

The casket will then be flown back on the presidential plane to Houston, where the former head of state will lie in repose at St Martin's Episcopal Church - where the Bush family worshipped for decades - until a funeral service on Thursday.

The remains will then be transported by train for interment on the grounds of the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. Mr Bush will be buried next to his wife Barbara, who died in April, and their daughter Robin, who died of leukaemia aged three.

The former president had struggled for years with Parkinson's disease, which left him wheelchair-bound and repeatedly hospitalised.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2018, with the headline ''Special Air Mission 41' takes Bush Senior on his final flights'. Print Edition | Subscribe