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By Alex Johnson
When former President George H.W. Bush is laid to rest Thursday afternoon at his presidential library in College Station, Texas, the ceremony will mark the end of a long-established ritual planned, with literally military precision, down to the second.
His family had a large role in planning the funeral for Bush, who died Friday at age 94. But it is the Military District of Washington, part of Joint Task Force-National Capital Region, that is responsible for staging the ceremonies — anti-royalist America’s answer to royal pomp and circumstance.
And make no mistake: It is a military operation, befitting a war hero who gave his service revolver to a Navy lieutenant aboard the submarine that rescued him after his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean during World War II. It involves military units coordinating split-second movements in at least three states and the District of Columbia, not to mention the Air Force’s flagship jet, Air Force One, which will fly Bush’s body from Houston to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Monday morning.
The presidential plane, temporarily renamed Special Air Mission 41 in honor of the 41st president of the United States, will return the former president to Texas on Wednesday after he has lain in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
Traditionally, a former president’s body is transported from Joint Base Andrews to the Capitol in a flag-draped, four-wheeled caisson that was built in 1918 to carry a 75-mm cannon. It is escorted by three military march units and personnel from all five military academies, coordinated by the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment — the Old Guard — based at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia.
The procession is timed to advance at exactly 3 mph and 100 steps per minute.
Bush’s body will remain at the Capitol until Wednesday morning, when it will be taken to Washington National Cathedral for only the 34th state funeral in the nation’s capital in American history, according to the Office of the Architect of the Capitol. It follows the services for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., by barely three months.
(Ceremonies for former President Richard Nixon in his hometown, Yorba Linda, California, in 1994 were also accorded state funeral status.)
It takes 133 pages to lay out all the procedures in an Army manual titled “State, Official and Special Military Funerals.” The joint military task force said as many as 4,000 military and Defense Department civilian personnel would be involved in some ceremonial, security or logistical capacity.
Bush, himself, gave the Military District of Washington a 211-page document detailing what he wanted. He requested that a “missing man” formation flyover of fighter jets and that the presidential fanfare, “Hail to the Chief,” not be performed at his burial.
Mourners at the Washington services will be led by President Donald Trump and Melania Trump, the first lady. Bush’s family, including his son George W. Bush, the 43rd president, and former first lady Laura Bush will be prominent. Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be there, along with former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, who canceled two European appearances this week to attend.
Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, won’t be at the services. The Carter Center said that the former president, who is 94, will be on a private overseas trip and that the former first lady, who is 91, is unable to travel after having undergone intestinal surgery.
Sully, the 2-year-old Labrador retriever that was assigned to Bush — who used a wheelchair in the last years of his life — by America’s VetDogs, which places service dogs with veterans with disabilities, was with Bush’s body in Houston on Sunday night. Bush’s spokesman, Jim McGrath, tweeted a photo of Sully in front of the former president’s casket.
The charity said that after he spends a short vacation at headquarters in Smithtown, New York, Sully will join the dog program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, assisting wounded soldiers and active-duty personnel.
There will, however, be one man with the former president at every step until he is laid to rest on Wednesday: Army Maj. Gen. Michael L. Howard, commanding general of Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region.
“This state funeral is a culmination of years of planning and rehearsal to ensure the support the military renders President Bush is nothing less than a first-class tribute,” Howard said in a statement.
Below is the full public schedule for former President George H.W. Bush’s state funeral and related services:
10:30 a.m. CT: Departure Ceremony, Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, Houston
3:30 p.m. ET: Arrival Ceremony, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland
4:45 p.m. ET: Arrival Ceremony, U.S. Capitol
5 p.m. ET: Lie in state, U.S. Capitol
10 a.m. ET: Departure ceremony, U.S. Capitol
11 a.m. ET: Arrival and funeral, Washington National Cathedral
12:30 p.m. ET: Departure ceremony, Washington National Cathedral
1:15 p.m. ET: Departure ceremony, Joint Base Andrews
4:30 p.m. CT: Arrival ceremony, Ellington Field
5:45 p.m. CT: Arrival ceremony, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Houston
6:45 p.m. CT: Lie in repose, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church
10 a.m. CT: Funeral service, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church
11:15 a.m. CT: Departure ceremony, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church
12:30 p.m. CT: Departure ceremony, Union Pacific Railroad Westfield Auto Facility, Spring, Texas
3:45 p.m. CT: Arrival ceremony, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
4:15 p.m. CT: Arrival and interment, George Bush Presidential Library & Museum, Texas A&M University