Remembering 41

“Where we goin’, Bake?” former President George H.W. Bush asked, prompted by a visit from longtime friend and former Secretary of State, James Baker. “We’re going to heaven” Mr. Baker responded, “That’s where I want to go” Mr. Bush uttered.

It was on that day, only 13 hours later, at 10:10 PM,  that President George H.W. Bush’s monumental and prestigious story would come to an end. Minutes before, former President George W. Bush received a phone call, where he was informed his father had just moments to live. Put on speaker phone, unsure of whether or not he could be heard, he said “Dad, I love you and you’ve been a wonderful father”. Despite suffering from Vascular Parkinsonism, making breathing and speaking incredibly difficult, “I love you, too” his father responded.

Surrounded by family, pastors, caregivers and aides, Mr. Baker characterized his passing as “gentle”, noting that “If those things could be sweet, It was sweet”.  Shortly after death, the former President’s body was flown from Texas to Washington D.C., in the Presidential Plane on a journey aptly named “Special Mission 41”. His body laid in the rotunda of the United States Capitol from Monday, December 3rd at 7:30 PM to Wednesday, December 5th, at 7:00 AM. Following a memorial service at the national cathedral, he was flown back to Texas where he laid at Texas A&M university for a short while, before being buried in his Presidential library. President Bush now lays next to his wife, Barbara Bush, and his daughter, Pauline Robinson “Robin” Bush.

George H. W. Bush is often cited as one of the most impactful single-term Presidents of the United States, and It’s not hard to see why.  Graduating from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he had already been accepted into Yale University when he made the decision to not attend, and instead to enlist in the U.S. Navy Reserve. At 18 years old, he was the youngest pilot in the United States Navy. During his service he was shot down by enemy combatants over the pacific ocean. After graduating yale with a B.A. in economics he refused a job at his father’s prestigious banking firm, and instead worked manual labor for an oilfield supply company. In 1964, he ran for U.S. Senate but was defeated by future President Lyndon B. Johnson, but just 2 years later he became the first Republican to ever represent Houston in Congress. Vying again for that Texas senate seat, he was again defeated. However, his efforts did not go unnoticed. President Nixon tapped H.W. Bush for Ambassador to the United Nations in 1971, Chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1973, Director of the C.I.A in ‘76, and special Envoy to China in 1974.

He would end up running for President in 1980, but as the story goes, his party gave the nomination to President Ronald Reagan. Shockingly, President Reagan tapped H.W. Bush to be his Vice President, and they won in 2 of the largest political landslides of American history. What would end up being his final stint of public service, he was elected President in 1988. While in office, he signed the landmark piece of civil rights legislation known as the “Americans with Disabilities Act”. A committed environmental activist, President George H. W. Bush appointed the first professional environmentalist to lead the E.P.A and signed a series of landmark environmental bills in the form of the “Clean Air Act”.

Former President George H. W. Bush lies in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Washington. (Pool photo by Morry Gash via AP) (Morry Gash)

President H.W. Bush is understandably lauded for his foreign policy. In 1989, Bush’s foreign policy team became aware of a coup brewing in Panama, aiming to take out military dictator Manuel Noriega, but refused to aid the coup, calling it “unorganized” and “sketchy”. Though congressional Democrats criticized the President for failing to seize an opportunity, his instincts proved correct. Bush would lead “Operation Just Cause” a few months later, which successfully brought Manuel Noriega back to the United States and sent him to prison. President Bush also presided over the reunification of Germany after the Cold War, and negotiated a historic arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. Most notably, President George H.W. Bush received congressional authorization to begin “Operation Desert Storm” and in less than 2 months, Bush had successfully ensured the sovereignty of Kuwait and the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi military. Bush’s successes, and his failures were informed by a 23-word creed: “Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your Best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course. All that kind of thing.”

Lights shining on the U.S. Capitol the night that former President George H.W. Bush arrived, December 3rd, 10:32 PM. (Blayne Clegg)

What was a lively, bustling hall filled with tourists and guides, myself among them, was turned into a solemn funeral hall for a titan, overnight. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Americans from all across the country, we mourned the loss of a dedicated public servant. Standing in the rotunda, with my eyes enamored by the deep blues and powerful maroons of the American flag draped over his casket, I had no concern for the latest controversy at the top of my twitter feed. Being able to hear the echo of tear drops hitting the floor, and of fathers pulling their sons just a little closer than normal, made me nostalgic for a period in time I never got to experience. Watching the changing of the guards, who saluted for hours on end, stood in stark contrast to the status quo of American politics: toxicity, resent, and triviality. There is no rule, no natural law, that says that nations like America must exist, or will continue to do so. It is Much like a ship, we require renewal, upkeep, and maintenance, and it isn’t easy. We require a captain, and that captain might not always be your fist pick, but nonetheless, captain they are. Before you hit send on your provocative tweet, or impugn his motives, or offer your snide disregard, sympathize with the difficulty of what being that captain entails. George Herbert Walker Bush was given a single opportunity to be that captain, and with a steady hand, he stayed the course, and we are all better off because of him.

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