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‘Last great soldier-statesman’ hailed at funeral for George HW Bush

Four former president were in attendance for the service at Washington National Cathedral.

The life and public service of the 41st president of the US have been celebrated with praise and humour at Washington National Cathedral as three former presidents looked on and a fourth — George W Bush — prepared to eulogise his father.

The congregation, populated with foreign leaders and diplomats, Americans of high office, and others touched by Bush Snr’s life, rose for the arrival of the coffin, accompanied by clergy of faiths from around the world.

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The coffin is carried into the National Cathedral (Andrew Harnik/AP)

George W Bush said he told his father just before he died that he had been a “wonderful dad” and that he loved him.

Delivering a eulogy at the funeral on Wednesday, Bush Jnr said his father’s “last words on earth were, ‘I love you too'”.

The younger Bush choked up at the end of his eulogy before regaining his composure. He patted his father’s flag-draped coffin twice as he went back to his seat in the cathedral, and former first lady Laura Bush wiped her eyes with a tissue as her husband sat next to her.

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George W Bush (Alex Brandon/AP)

In their row together, President Donald Trump and predecessors Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton stood with their spouses and all placed their hands over their hearts.

Mr Bush – the last president to fight in the Second World War – was “the last great-soldier statesman”, historian Jon Meacham said in his eulogy.

On a light note, he added that Mr Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin. Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply cracked: “You never know.”

The national funeral service caps three days of remembrance in Washington before Mr Bush’s remains return to Texas for his burial on Thursday.

A military band played Hail To The Chief as the coffin was carried down the US Capitol steps in a solemn procession, with members of the Bush family watching and a cannon salute.

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The coffin is carried down the steps of the US Capitol (Sarah Silbiger/New York Times/AP)

The hearse was driven in a motorcade to the cathedral, slowing in front of the White House. The route was lined with people much of the way, bundled in winter hats and taking photos.

A colour guard stood at attention as the hearse arrived, and military pallbearers carried the coffin up the steps to the cathedral.

Waiting for his arrival inside, Mr Trump shook hands with Mr Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, who greeted him by saying “Good morning”. Mr Trump did not shake hands with Bill and Hillary Clinton, who looked straight ahead.

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Hillary Clinton greets Barack Obama (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Mr Clinton and Mrs Obama smiled and chatted as music played; Mr Carter was seated silently next to Mrs Clinton in the cavernous cathedral; Mr Obama cracked up laughing at someone’s quip; vice president Mike Pence shook Mr Carter’s hand.

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

On Tuesday, soldiers, citizens in wheelchairs and long lines of others on foot wound through the Capitol Rotunda to view the coffin and honour a president whose legacy included wartime military service and a landmark law affirming the rights of the disabled.

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Bob Dole pays his last respects (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Former senator 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, Mr Bush’s remains will be returned to Houston to lie in repose at St Martin’s Episcopal Church before burial 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 leukaemia in 1953 at the age of three.

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

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Sully the dog (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Mr Bush’s service dog Sully was taken to the viewing too — his main service in recent months since Mrs Bush’s death in April being to rest his head on her husband’s lap.

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