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US bids farewell to former President George H.W. Bush in Washington DC

The United States capital is bidding its final farewell to former President George H.W. Bush today in a service of prayer and praise that has drawn together world envoys, Americans of high office and many others who were touched by Bush's life in office and afterward.

A military band played "Hail to the Chief" as the casket of the 41st president was carried down the US Capitol steps in a solemn procession, with members of the Bush family watching and a cannon salute.

His son, former President George W. Bush, placed his hand over his heart. Military pallbearers carried the casket up the steps to the cathedral.

A final salute is rendered by the honor guard standing watch over the flag-draped casket of the late president, George H.W. Bush, as the public viewing comes to an end at the US Capitol Rotunda. Source: Associated Press

The hearse had been driven in a motorcade to the Washington National Cathedral ceremony, slowing in front of the White House. Bush's route was lined with people much of the way, bundled in winter hats and taking photos.

A military colour guard stood at attention as the hearse arrived.

Today's ceremonies capped three days of remembrance in the nation's capital by dignitaries and ordinary citizens as they honoured the Republican president who oversaw the post-Cold War world transition and led a successful Gulf War, only to lose re-election in a generational shift to Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992.

People arrive for a State Funeral for former President George H.W. Bush at the National Cathedral. Source: Associated Press

The four living ex-presidents all came — among them, George W. Bush who will eulogise his father — and President Donald Trump will attend but is not scheduled to speak.

Also attending: one king (Jordan), one queen (Jordan), two princes (Britain, Bahrain), Germany's chancellor and Poland's president, among representatives of more than a dozen countries.

Mr Trump tweeted yesterday that he was "looking forward to being with the Bush family," calling the day "a celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life." Mr Trump and his wife took their seats after the others, briefly greeting the Obamas seated next to them.

Also expected in the invitation-only crowd: Mike Lovejoy, a Kennebunkport electrician and fix-it man who has worked at Bush's Maine summer estate since 1990 and says he was shocked and heartened to be asked to come.

Yesterday, soldiers, citizens in wheelchairs and long lines of others on foot wound through the Capitol Rotunda to view Bush's casket and honor a president whose legacy included World War military service and a landmark law affirming the rights of the disabled.

Former Sen. Bob Dole, a compatriot in war, peace and political struggle, steadied himself out of his wheelchair and saluted his old friend and one-time rival.

After the national funeral service at the cathedral, Bush's remains will be returned to Houston to lie in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church before burial Friday (NZT) at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station.

His final resting place will be alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years who died in April, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

Mr Trump ordered the federal government closed today for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.

As at notable moments in his life, Bush brought together Republicans and Democrats in his death, and not only the VIPs.

Members of the public who never voted for the man waited in the same long lines as the rest, attesting that Bush possessed the dignity and grace that deserved to be remembered by their presence on a cold overcast day in the capital.

"I'm just here to pay my respects," said Jane Hernandez, a retired physician in the heavily Democratic city and suburbs. "I wasn't the biggest fan of his presidency, but all in all he was a good, sincere guy doing a really hard job as best he could."

Bush's service dog, Sully, was taken to the viewing, too — his main service these last months since Barbara Bush's death in April being to rest his head on her husband's lap. Service dogs are trained to do that.

The CIA also honoured Bush, the only spy chief to become president, as three agency directors past and present joined the public in the viewing.

In the midst of the period of mourning, first lady Melania Trump gave Laura Bush, one of her predecessors, a tour of holiday decorations at the White House, a "sweet visit during this somber week," as Mrs. Bush's Instagram account put it.

And the Trumps visited members of the Bush family at the Blair House presidential guesthouse, where they are staying. Former President George W. Bush and his wife greeted the Trumps outside before everyone went in for the private, 20-minute visit.

Although Trump will attend Bush's service, he is not among the eulogists. They are, in addition to Bush's eldest son, Alan Simpson, the former senator and acerbic wit from Wyoming; Brian Mulroney, the former Canadian prime minister who also gave a eulogy for Ronald Reagan; and presidential historian Jon Meacham.

Bush's death reduces membership in the ex-presidents' club to four: Jimmy Carter, Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

FILE - In this May 11, 2008 file photo, former President George H.W. Bush arrives on the South Lawn of White House in Washington. Bush died at the age of 94 on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara Bush. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson, File)
FILE - In this May 11, 2008 file photo, former President George H.W. Bush arrives on the South Lawn of White House in Washington. Source: Associated Press