Draped in a United States flag, a casket carrying the body of former president George H W Bush on Monday was flown to Washington from Houston for the final time in Air Force One aircraft, which has been redesignated as ‘Special Air Mission 41’ in a “special tribute” to the American leader.
Bush, the 41st president of the US who led America during the dramatic collapse of the Soviet Union and engineered the defeat of an audacious Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, died in Houston on Friday at the age of 94.
The casket will be flown back to Houston -- where the former head of state will lie in repose at St Martin’s Episcopal Church until Thursday’s funeral -- after commemoration of a state funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday.
Hundreds of people gathered Monday at the Ellington Air Force Base to witness the body of their beloved leader being carried to the aircraft.
The presidential anthem of the US, “Hail to the Chief”, was played and cannons sounded as Bush’s casket was removed from the hearse. The Bush family, with hands over their hearts, looked on as the flag-draped casket was loaded onto the presidential plane and the band played “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”.
Members of the Bush family -- including son George W Bush, the nation’s 43rd president, and former first lady Laura Bush -- boarded Air Force One just before the plane flew to Washington. The late president’s service dog, Sully, also boarded the airplane.
Bush’s remains will lie in state in the US Capitol Rotunda till Wednesday, when he will be honoured with state funeral at the Washington National Cathedral.
US President Donald Trump and former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will also attend the state funeral.
Bush, who was also a World War II Navy pilot, will be laid to rest wearing socks adorned with an image of squadron of planes, his spokesman Jim McGrath said Monday.
Tweeting a picture of Bush wearing grey socks adorned with images of jets flying in formation, McGrath wrote, “The 41st President will be carried to his final rest wearing socks that pay tribute to his lifetime of service, starting as an 18-year-old naval aviator in war. That legacy is now being carried, in part, by the brave, selfless men and women aboard @CVN77_GHWB.”
The former US president flew more than 50 combat missions in World War II, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Earlier, McGrath also shared a photo of Bush’s service dog Sully, lying in front of the president’s casket, in social media. The photo quickly went viral.
On Thursday, the president’s casket will be taken by train to College Station, Texas, accompanied by the Bush family members and close friends. A funeral procession will then travel on George Bush Drive toward the Bush Library complex.
Bush will be buried in Texas next to his wife, Barbara, and their daughter, Robin, who died in 1953.
US President Bush was suffering from Parkinson’s disease that forced him to use a wheelchair in recent years, and he had been in and out of hospitals in recent months as his health declined.
The decorated war pilot and former Central Intelligence Agency chief was elected president on November 8, 1988. He was sworn in on January 20, 1989, and served until January 20, 1993.