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State Funeral of George H.W. Bush. Aired 11:30-12p ET
Aired December 5, 2018 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:30:00] JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: He plunged deep into the ocean, bobbed to the surface and flopped on to a tiny raft, his head bleeding, his eyes burning, his mouth and throat raw from salt water. The future 41st president of the United States was alone. Sensing that his men had not made it, he was overcome. He felt the weight of responsibility as a nearly physical burden. And he wept. Then, at four minutes shy of noon, a submarine emerged to rescue the downed pilot. George Herbert Walker Bush was safe.
The story, his story and ours, would go on by God's grace. Through the ensuing decades, President Bush would frequently ask nearly daily. He would ask himself, why me? Why was I spared? And in a sense, the rest of his life was a perennial effort to prove himself worthy of his salvation on that distant morning. To him, his life was no longer his own. There were always more missions to undertake, more lives to touch and more love to give.
And what a headlong race he made of it all. He never slowed down. On the primary campaign trail in New Hampshire once, he grabbed the hand of a department store mannequin asking for votes.
When he realized his mistake, he said, "Never know. Got to ask."
You can hear the voice, can't you? As Dana Carvey said, the key to a Bush 41 impersonation is Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne.
George Herbert Walker Bush was America's last great soldier statesman, a 20th century founding father. He governed with virtues that most closely resemble those of Washington and of Adams, of T.R. and of FDR, of Truman and of Eisenhower, of men who believed in causes larger than themselves. At 6'2", handsome, dominant in person, President Bush spoke with those big strong hands, making fists to underscore points, a master of what Franklin Roosevelt called the science of human relationships. He believed that do whom much was given, much is expected. And because life gave him so much, he gave back again and again and again.
He stood in the breach in the Cold War against totalitarianism. He stood in the breach in Washington against unthinking partisanship. He stood in the breach against tyranny and discrimination. And on his watch, a wall fell in Berlin, a dictator's aggression did not stand. And doors across America opened to those with disabilities.
And in his personal life, he stood in the breach against heartbreak and hurt, always offering an outstretched hand, a warm word, a sympathetic tear. If you were down, he would rush to lift you up. And if you were soaring, he would rush to savor your success. Strong and gracious, comforting and charming, loving and loyal, he was our shield in danger's hour.
Now, of course, there was ambition, too, loads of that. To serve, he had to succeed. To preside, he had to prevail. Politics, he once admitted, isn't a pure undertaking, not if you want to win, it's not. An imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union.
[11:35:18] It must be said that for a keenly intelligent statesman of stirring, almost unparalleled private eloquence, public speaking was not exactly a strong suit. Fluency in English, President Bush once remarked, is something that I'm often not accused of.
Looking ahead to the '88 election, he observed, inarguably, it's no exaggeration to say that the undecideds could go one way or the other.
And late in his presidency, he allowed that, we are enjoying sluggish times, but we are not enjoying them very much.
His tongue may have run amuck at moments, but his heart was steadfast. His life code, as he said, was tell the truth. Don't blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course. And that was and is the most American of creeds.
Abraham Lincoln's "better angels of our nature" and George H.W. Bush's Thousand Points of Light are companion versus in America's national hymn. For Lincoln and Bush both called on us to choose the right over the convenient, to hope rather than to fear and to heed not our worst impulses, but our best instincts.
In this work, he had the most wonderful of allies in Barbara Pierce Bush, his wife of 73 years. He called her Barb, the Silver Fox, and when the situation warranted, The Enforcer. He was the only boy she ever kissed. Her children, Mrs. Bush liked to say, always wanted to throw up when they heard that.
In a letter to Barbara during the war, young George H.W. Bush had written, "I love you precious with all my heart. And to know that you love me means my life. How lucky our children will be to have a mother like you." And as they will tell you, they surely were. As vice president, Bush once visited a children's leukemia ward in
Krakow (ph). And 35 years before, he and Barbara had lost a daughter, Robin, to the disease. In Krakow (ph), a small boy wanted to greet the American vice president. Learning that the child was sick with the cancer that had taken Robin, Bush began to cry. To his diary later that day, the vice president said this -- "My eyes flooded with tears. And behind me was a bank of television cameras. And I thought, I can't turn around. I can't dissolve because of personal tragedy in the face of the nurses that give of themselves every day. So I stood there looking at this little guy, tears running down my cheek, hoping he wouldn't see. But if he did, hoping he would feel that I loved him."
That was the real George H.W. Bush, a loving man with a big, vibrant, all-enveloping heart.
So we ask why him, as we commend his soul to God, and as he did, why him, why was he spared. The workings of providence are mysterious, but this much is clear, that George Herbert Walker Bush, who survived that fiery fall into the waters of the Pacific three quarters of a century ago, made our lives and the lives of nations freer, better, warmer and nobler. That was his mission. That was his heart beat. And if we listen closely enough, we can hear that heartbeat even now, for it's the heartbeat of a lion, a lion who not only led us, but who loved us. That's why him. That's why he was spared.
[11:46:01] JENNA BUSH, GRANDDAUGHTER OF GEORGE H.W. BUSH: A reading from Revelation to St. John. Then I saw a new Heaven and a new earth for the first Heaven and the first earth had passed away. And the sea was no more. And I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, see? The home of God is among words. He will dwell with them. They will be his peoples and God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more. For the first things have passed away. Then he said to me, it is done. I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty, I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things. And I will be their God. And they will be my children. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light and the lamb is the lamb. The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day. And there will be no night there. The word of the Lord.
CROWD: Thanks be to God.
BRIAN MULRONEY, FORMER CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: Do you remember where you were the summer you left your teenage years behind and turned 20? Well, I was working as a laborer in my hometown in Quebec trying to make enough money to get back into law school. It was a tough job, but I was safe and secure and had the added benefit of my mother's home cooking every night. On September 2, 1944, as we just heard so elegantly from Jon, 20-year-
old Lieutenant George Bush was preparing to attack Japanese war installations in the Pacific. He was part of the courageous generation of young Americans who led the charge against overwhelming odds in the historic and bloody battle for supremacy in the Pacific against the colossal military might of Imperial Japan. That's what George Bush did the summer he turned 20.
[11:50:00] Many men of differing talents and skills have served as president, and many more will do so as the decades unfold, bringing new strength and glory to these United States of America. And 50 or 100 years from now, as historians review the accomplishments and the context of all who have served as president, I believe it will be said that in the life of this country, the United States, which is, in my judgment, the greatest democratic republic that God has ever placed on the face of this earth, I believe it will be said that no occupant of the Oval Office was more courageous, more principled and more honorable than George Herbert Walker Bush.
George Bush was a man of high accomplishment, but he also had a delightful sense of humor and was a lot of fun. At his first NATO meeting in Brussels, as the new American president, he sat opposite me actually that day. George was taking copious notes as the heads of government spoke. We were all limited in time. But, you know, it's very flattering to have the president of the United States take notes as you speak.
And even someone as modest as me.
I threw in a few more adjectives here and there to extend the pleasure of the experience.
After President Metaha (ph), Prime Minister Thatcher and Chancellor (INAUDIBLE), it was the turn of the prime minister of Iceland who, as President Bush continued to write, went on and on and on and on.
Ending only when the secretary-general of NATO firmly decreed a coffee break. George put down his pen, walked over to me and said, "Brian, I've just learned the fundamental principle of international affairs." I said, "What's that, George? He said, "The smaller the country, the longer the speech."
In the second year of the Bush presidency, responding to implacable pressures from the Reagan and Bush administrations, the Soviet Union imploded. This was, in my judgment, the most epical event, political event of the 20th century. An ominous situation that could have become extremely menacing to world security, was instead definitely challenged by the leadership of President Bush in the broad and power currents of freedom, providing the Russian people with the opportunity to build an embryonic democracy in a country that had been ruled by czars and tyrants for over a thousand years.
And then as the Berlin Wall collapsed soon thereafter and calls for freedom cascaded across Central and Eastern Europe leaving dictators and dogma in the trash can of history, no challenge, no challenge assumed greater importance of Western solidarity than the unification of Germany within an unswerving NATO. But old fears in Western Europe and unrelenting hostility by the military establishment in the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact rendered this initiative among the most complex and sensitive ever undertaken. One serious misstep and this entire process could have been compromised perhaps irretrievably. There's obviously no more knowledgeable or competent judge of what really happened at this most vital juncture of the 20th century than Chancellor Helmut Kohl, of Germany. In a speech to a parliamentary commission, Chancellor Kohl said categorically that this historic initiative of German reunification could never, ever have succeeded without the brilliant leadership of President Bush.
Much has been written about the first gulf war. Simply put, the coalition of 29 disparate nations assembled under the aegis of the United Nations, including for the first time many influential Arab countries and led by the United States, will rank with the most spectacular and successful international initiatives ever undertaken in modern history, designed to punish an aggressor, defend the cause of freedom, and ensure order in a region that had seen too much of the opposite for far too long. This was President Bush's initiative from beginning to end.
[11:55:35] President Bush was also responsible for the North American Free Trade Agreement, recently modernized and improved by new administrations, which created the largest and richest free trade area in the history of the world, while also signing into law the Americans with Disabilities Act, which transformed the lives of millions and millions of Americans forever.
President Bush's decision to go forward with strong environmental legislation, including the Clean Air Act that resulted in the acid rain accord with Canada, is a splendid gift to future generations of Americans and Canadians to savor in the air they breathe and the water they drink and the forests they enjoy and the lakes, rivers and streams they cherish.
There's a word for this. It's called leadership. Leadership. And let me tell you, that when George Bush was president of the United States of America, every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman, a genuine leader, one who was distinguished, resolute, and brave.
I don't keep a diary, but occasionally I write private notes after important personal or professional events. One occurred at Walker's Point in Kennebunkport, Maine, on September 2nd, 2001. Mila and I had been spending our traditional Labor Day weekend with George and Barbara. Towards the end, he and I had a long, private conversation. My notes capture the moment.
I told George how I thought his mood had shifted over the last eight years from a series of frustrations and moments of despondency in 1993 to the high enthusiasm that I felt at the Houston launch of the presidential library, and George W.'s election as governor in November of that year, to the delight following Jeb's election in 1998, followed by their great pride and pleasure with George W.'s election to the presidency. And perhaps most importantly, to the serenity we found today in both Barbara and George. They are truly at peace with themselves, joyous in what they and the children have achieved, gratified by the goodness that God has bestowed upon them all, and genuinely content with the thrill and promise of each passing day.
And at that, George, with tears in his eyes as I spoke, said, "You know, Brian, you've got us pegged just right, and the roller coaster of emotions we've experienced since 1992. Come with me." He led me down the porch at Walker's Point to the side of the house that fronts the ocean and pointed to a small, simple plaque that had been unobtrusively installed just some days earlier. It read "CAVU." George said, "Brian, this stands for ceiling and visibility unlimited. When I was a terrified 18 to 19-year-old pilot in the Pacific, those, those were the words we hoped to hear before takeoff. It meant perfect flying. And that's the way I feel about our life today, CAVU. Everything is perfect. Barbara and I could not have asked for better lives. We are truly happy and truly at peace."