As Wednesday’s state funeral for President George H.W. Bush unfolded, I felt a deep, intense pride for our country, pride in being an American, pride for the light of hope and freedom the United States has been for the world.
I’m not much on pomp and circumstance. The tribute paid to the late president, however, I found incredibly fitting and proper. Even though my urgent professional duties beckoned I sat in front of the television transfixed, from the moment the military pall bearers in the Capitol picked up the late president’s casket until hours later when the hearse bearing his body finally departed the National Cathedral.
When I first sat down to watch the funeral I simply wished to hear the eulogies, the personal comments about a man I personally respected. I never in the slightest expected the service to impact me the way that it did.
Those who know me well are aware I hold high expectations for our presidents. Most would probably say unreasonable expectations, and as I see more and more of our history firsthand I am inclined to agree.
Through the years I have always respected Bush the 41st as a man of integrity, decency and honor. During his term of office I did not like some of his policies, but even then I realized his unwavering goal was to do what he believed was best for America.
He was the last of our presidents from The Greatest Generation, those who risked their lives to fight for freedom in the face of tyranny in World War II. I knew President Bush was a pilot during that war, and that he had been shot down. I can’t begin to find words to express the deep respect I now feel after learning he was the youngest pilot in that conflict, and that his fellow crew members perished when his plane went down into the Pacific.
Our future president was injured and alone in a small raft on the ocean, wondering if he would be found, and if so whether it would be friend or foe.
He later grappled with what we know as survivor’s guilt, wondering why he was spared when the others died. It was America’s great fortune, work of the kind hand of Providence, that he did survive and that his experience helped motivated his life of public service.
And serve he did.
History has shown President George H. W. Bush to be courageous, a man of faith, a kind man, an honest man, a great diplomat who put the welfare of America and even the world ahead of his own. His role in the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany and the rise of democracy in Russia and Eastern Europe was simply masterful. It is unfortunate that many of these gains, especially in Russia, have been lost.
Even in perhaps his greatest failure, the reversal of his “no new taxes” pledge, he was willing to sacrifice himself to do right by America given the way events transpired.
Beyond his service to the nation, President George H. W. Bush gave of himself for his friends and his family, as an incredibly devoted husband, father and grandfather.
I found it profound that President Bush’s body lay in state in the Capitol upon the same catafalque that supported Abraham Lincoln’s casket – each was a president who was very much the right man at the right time, to the great benefit of our country.
As I absorbed the continuing tributes I realized more and more that the life Bush the 41st is an incredible parallel to the history of the country he led – a strong, brave nation with character and integrity, a beacon of hope and freedom for the world.
Yet as I realize this has been the heritage of the United States, I’m left wondering if that will also be its future. I see decency , morality and integrity threatened by selfishness and ambition of our leaders, eroded by bitter partisan politics.
Can we reverse our course? Only time will tell. I believe one thing is for certain, however – President Bush’s rallying cry of “a thousand points of light” and his call for “a kinder, gentler nation” is a legacy we all should strive to uphold.
Don Allison is a Williams County native, retired editor and Saturday columnist for The Bryan Times.