WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush recalled his father and predecessor as "the brightest of a thousand points of light" and "a great and noble man" who managed a peaceful end to the Cold War and helped define the Republican establishment for the last half-century.
"He accepted that failure is a part of living a full life, but taught us never to be defined by failure," said Bush, in a Washington, D.C., funeral service for the nation's 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush.
America's five living presidents were among the hundreds of dignitaries and elected leaders, spanning decades of public service, crowded into the pews to celebrate the life and legacy of Bush.
"He stood in the breach of the Cold War against totalitarianism. He stood in the breach in Washington against unthinking partisanship," said Jon Meacham, his biographer, who delivered the first eulogy. "Under his watch, a wall fell in Berlin, a dictator's aggression did not stand."
Meacham set the tone with a remembrance that was at once poignant and funny, recalling the naval aviator who was shot down over the Pacific in World War II after first making sure he completed his mission -- but still wondered why he was spared and how he could live his life to prove worthiness.
He called Bush "America's last, great soldier statesman, a 20th-century founding father," in a line of U.S. presidents "who believed in causes larger than themselves."
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But Meacham also recalled Bush's famous malapropisms and the nasally voice made famous in the impersonation by actor Dana Carvey, who said it was inspired by "Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne."
"An imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union," said Meacham, whose eulogy inspired laughter and nods of recognition from family members seated in the front row of the National Cathedral.
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 to serve from the so-called Greatest Generation.
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.