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President Bush's funeral another milestone in the passing of the 'Greatest Generation'

Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- An honor guard fired a 21-gun salute and a military band played "Hail to the Chief" for George H.W. Bush, America's 41st president, as his family watched his flag-draped casket descend from the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday for the last time to make the journey toward his state funeral.

Services for the patriarch of the Bush family, which dominated the Republican establishment and world affairs for much of the last century, prompted government offices to close and the nation to pause, mourn and celebrate the last president from the so-called Greatest Generation, those who grew up in the Depression and won World War II.

President George W. Bush stood with his wife, Laura, and brother Jeb, a former Florida governor and presidential candidate, their eyes welling up and their hands across their hearts in a moment that was at once personal and national in its significance.

The state funeral marks the first time all the living U.S. presidents -- Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter -- will meet since Trump was inaugurated in January 2017 after a bitter campaign in which he criticized nearly every one of them.

All of the living first ladies are also attending the 11 a.m. service at Washington National Cathedral. Rosalynn Carter, who had been expected to miss the event, was able to make it.

Trump will attend the funeral but has not been asked to speak. He will be the first sitting president not to make the speakers' program at the funeral of a predecessor since President Nixon failed to eulogize Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973.

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Although Trump often criticized the elder Bush, as well as his sons George W. and Jeb, the family deliberately avoided using the funeral to make a political statement against him. Trump was excluded from former Sen. John McCain's memorial service at the same cathedral in September.

Since Bush's death Friday at age 94 at his home in Houston, Trump has showered his family with condolences and offered tributes to his public service.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump and First Lady Melania Trump exchanged embraces with the Bush family at the Blair House, the president's official guest quarters. Trump has granted them use of Air Force One, as the plane is known when the president is aboard, for transporting the casket.

Despite those efforts, comparisons between Trump's muscular "America first" nationalism and Bush's call for a "kinder, gentler America" inevitably have dominated some of the news coverage.

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