WASHINGTON — The body of former President George H.W. Bush arrived at the U.S. Capitol Monday afternoon to begin several days of Washington tributes and all the solemn ceremony befitting a nation’s fallen leader.
The President’s cortège, and a flight of gleaming black limousines, arrived on a fading autumn day at the traditional site of public leave taking after a journey from Houston, where Bush died Friday at the age of 94.
As the sky grew pink to the East, and the Marione Band played hymns, an eight-man military team of bearers carried the casket one step at a time up the long flight at the east front of the Capitol.
The crash of an artillery salute, fired before the memorial to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, echoed over the grounds.
The casket was placed on the same pine board catalfalque, covered in black fabric, that held the coffin of Abraham Lincoln after he was assassinated in 1865.
And 180 feet above, in the “eye” of the Rotunda, was the 1851 fresco depicting the exaltation of the nation’s first president, George Washington.
Among the gathered dignitaries there, was Vice President Mike Pence.
“President Bush was a great leader, who made a great difference in the life of this nation,” he said. “But he was also just a good man, who was devoted to his wife, his family, and his friends.”
Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Bush a hero, and “a steady hand.”
Amid the speeches and the pomp, Bush’s son, former President George W. Bush sat, looking haggard with grief.
The late President’s casket and his family had arrived at Joint Base Andrews earlier on a presidential jumbo jet that landed at the base in suburban Maryland at about 3:20 p.m.
The plane arrived under a blue sky and rolled down the empty runway. When it came to a stop, a blue truck bearing the presidential seal pulled up to the plane to remove the casket from the aircraft.
As an Air Force band played the hymn “America,” and a blue Air Force flag flew at half-mast, the President’s casket was placed in a black hearse for the journey to the Capitol.
Four artillery pieces fired salutes as a drum rolled.
Earlier, in Houston, another band had played the haunting Navy Hymn, and smoke from an artillery salute blew across the airport tarmac as the late President began his final journey to Washington.
The band played “Ruffles and Flourishes” and “Hail to the Chief,” and the President’s son, former President George W. Bush, and his wife, former first lady Laura Bush, led the Bush family aboard a blue and white jumbo jet.
The plane took off at 12:14 p.m.
Bush will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda through 7 a.m. Wednesday.
His casket was placed on the Lincoln Catafalque, the same pine board box on which rested the coffin of President Abraham Lincoln after his assassination in 1865.
After a private arrival ceremony with the Bush family and members of Congress, the Rotunda opened to the public.
The viewing in the Rotunda will continue Tuesday and will end at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
The last President to lie in state in the Rotunda was Gerald Ford, from Dec. 30, 2006, to Jan. 2, 2007. The last public figure to lie in state there was the late senator John McCain on Aug. 31, according to the Senate Historical Office.
The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony scheduled for Wednesday was rescheduled to 5 p.m. Thursday.
A funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral, as the Bush family requested.
After a departure ceremony at 10 a.m. at the Capitol, the former President’s body will be taken to the cathedral via motorcade along Constitution Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue.
The state funeral — based on the Burial Rite in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer — will be led by the Most Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the cathedral said.
Also participating will be the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal Bishop of Washington; the Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral; and the Rev. Russell Levenson Jr., rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.
Bush is to be eulogized by his son, the former President, as well as former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, and historian Jon Meacham.