Thousands salute Bush funeral train 4141 on final Texas ride

The flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush is carried by a joint services military honor guard Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, in Spring, Texas, as it is placed on a Union Pacific train. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool)
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Thousands waved and cheered along the route as funeral train No. 4141 — for the 41st president — carried George H.W. Bush's remains to their final resting place on Thursday, his last journey as a week of national remembrance took on a decidedly personal feel in an emotional home state farewell.

Some people laid coins along the tracks that wound through small town Texas so a 420,000-pound locomotive pulling the nation's first funeral train in nearly half a century could crunch them into souvenirs. Others snapped pictures or crowded for views so close that police helicopters overhead had to warn them back. Elementary students hoisted a banner simply reading "THANK YOU."

The scenes reminiscent of a bygone era followed the more somber tone of a funeral service at a Houston church, where Bush's former secretary of state and confidant for decades, James Baker, addressed him as "jefe," Spanish for "boss." At times choking back tears, Baker praised Bush as "a beautiful human being" who had "the courage of a warrior. But when the time came for prudence, he maintained the greater courage of a peacemaker."

Baker also offered Bush as a contrast to today's divisive, sometimes vitriolic politics, saying that his "wish for a kinder, gentler nation was not a cynical political slogan. It came honest and unguarded from his soul."

"The world became a better place because George Bush occupied the White House for four years," said Baker.

As the post-funeral motorcade carrying Bush's remains later sped down a closed highway from the church to the train station, construction workers on all levels of an unfinished building paused to watch. A man sitting on a Ferris wheel near the aquarium waved.

Bush's body was later loaded onto a special train fitted with clear sides so people could catch a glimpse of the casket as it rumbled by. The train traveled about 70 miles — the first presidential funeral train journey since Dwight D. Eisenhower's remains went from Washington to his native Kansas 49 years ago — to the family plot on the grounds of Bush's presidential library at Texas A&M University. Bush's final resting place is alongside his wife, Barbara, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia at age 3.

In the town of Pinehurst, 55-year-old Doug Allen left eight coins on the tracks before the train passed — three quarters, three dimes and two pennies. The train left the coins flattened and slightly discolored.

"It's something we'll always keep," Allen said.

Andy Gordon, 38, took his 6-year-old daughter, Addison, out of school so she and her 3-year-old sister, Ashtyn, could see the train pass.

"Hopefully, my children will remember the significance and the meaning of today," Gordon said. Addison was carrying two small American flags in her hand.

The train arrived in College Station in the late afternoon with a military band playing "Hail to the Chief" and then Texas A&M's "Aggie War Hymn."

About 2,100 cadets in their tan dress uniforms with jackets and ties and knee-high boots waited for hours on a cold, gray day to line the road —known as Barbara Bush Drive— to the Bush library's front doors. The U.S. Navy conducted a 21 strike fighter flyover, a salute to the World War II Navy pilot, followed by a 21-gun cannon salute on the ground.

President George H.W. Bush's official White House portrait
In this Oct. 9, 1970 file photo, Rep. George H.W. Bush, R-Texas, talks with a group of young people at a rally in Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/File)
In this June 6, 1964, file photo George H.W. Bush, candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, gets returns by phone at his headquarters in Houston, as his wife Barbara, smiles at the news. (AP Photo/Ed Kolenovsky, File)
In this 1968 file photo provided by the Texas National Guard, George H.W. Bush, right, is about to pin a lieutenant bar on his son, George W. Bush, after the younger Bush was made an officer in the Texas Air National Guard. (AP Photo, File)
In this March 6, 1968 file photo, George H.W. Bush, R-Texas, appears in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi, File)
In this Nov. 3, 1980 file photo, former President Gerald Ford lends his support to Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan and his running mate George H.W. Bush, in Peoria, Ill. (AP Photo/File)
In this Oct. 18, 1971, file photo, U.S. Ambassador George H.W. Bush gestures as he addresses the United Nations General Assembly during the China debate. (AP Photo/File)
In this Nov. 8, 1988 file photo, President-elect George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara wave to supporters in Houston, Texas after winning the presidential election. (AP Photo/Scott Applewhite, File)
In this Jan. 20, 1989, file photo, President George H.W. Bush raises his right hand as he is sworn into office as the 41st president of the United States by Chief Justice William Rehnquist. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty, File)
In this Feb. 11, 1991, file photo, President George H.W. Bush talks to reporters in the Rose Garden of the White House after meeting with top military advisors to discuss the Persian Gulf War. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)
In this Oct. 29, 1991, file photo, President George H.W. Bush gestures during a joint news conference with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, at the Soviet Embassy in Madrid. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)
In this Oct. 15, 1992, file photo, President George H.W. Bush, left, talks with independent candidate Ross Perot as Democratic candidate Bill Clinton stands aside at the end of their second presidential debate in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander)
In this Aug. 24, 1992, file photo, President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush walk with their dog Millie across the South Lawn as they return to the White House. (AP Photo/Scott Applewhite, File)
In this Nov. 21, 1990, file photo, President George H.W. Bush is greeted by King Fahd on his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
In this Nov. 22, 1990 file photo, President George H.W. Bush is greeted by Saudi troops and others as he arrives in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, for a Thanksgiving visit. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
In this June 5, 1989 file photo, U.S. President George H.W. Bush holds a news conference at the White House in Washington where he condemned the Chinese crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander)
In this Nov. 10, 2007, file photo provided by the U.S. Army Golden Knights, former President George H.W. Bush free falls with Golden Knights parachute team member Sgt. 1st Class Mike Elliott. (Sgt. 1st Class Kevin McDaniel/U.S. Army via AP, File)
In this Nov. 12, 1988, file photo, waves splash on then-President-elect George H.W. Bush as he casts a line while fishing in Gulf Stream, Fla. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
In this Jan. 7, 2009, file photo, former President George H.W. Bush, left, walks with his wife, Barbara Bush to a reception in honor of the Points of Light Institute in the East Room at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
In this Jan. 7, 2009, file photo, President George W. Bush poses with President-elect Barack Obama and former presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter in the Oval Office of the White House. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
In this May 11, 2008 file photo, former President George H.W. Bush arrives on the South Lawn of White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson, File)
In this April 21, 2018 file photo, former Presidents George W. Bush, left, and George H.W. Bush arrive at St. Martin's Episcopal Church for a funeral service for former first lady Barbara Bush, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

At the earlier service at Houston's St. Martin's Episcopal Church, where Bush and his family regularly worshipped, the choir sang "This is My Country," which was also sung at Bush's presidential inauguration in 1989. Those gathered heard a prayer stressing the importance of service and selflessness that the president himself offered for the country at the start of his term.

There were rousing renditions of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Onward Christian Soldiers," and also performances from some of Bush's country favorites. The Oak Ridge Boys recalled playing for him for decades — sometimes at the White House — and joked that Bush "fancied himself to be a good bass singer. He was not." They then sang "Amazing Grace," and Reba McEntire offered a musical version of "The Lord's Prayer."

Thursday's flavor was distinctly Texan, unlike three days of Washington celebrations that had more of a national feel. In place of most federal dignitaries were top Houston athletes including the NFL Texans' defensive end J.J. Watt — showing Bush's love for sports — and Chuck Norris, who played TV's "Walker, Texas Ranger."

Grandson George P. Bush, the only member of the political dynasty still holding elected office, as Texas land commissioner, used his eulogy to praise the man the younger generations called "gampy."

"He left a simple, yet profound legacy to his children, to his grandchildren and to his country: service," George P. Bush said.

The church's pastor, the Rev. Russell Levenson Jr., recalled the Bushes often attending services and offering to give up their seats to others on days when the church was particularly crowded.

"He was ready for heaven, and heaven was ready for him," Levenson said of Bush who was in declining health in recent years. The minister suggested that when the former president died, he met his wife of 73 years in heaven and Barbara Bush playfully demanded, "What took you so long?"

Indeed, the funeral occurred at the same church where services were held in April for Barbara Bush. Those are remembered for an emotional scene when the former president gazed from his wheelchair up at her casket, then shook hands with well-wishers.

Wednesday night, more than 11,000 people paid their respects as Bush lay in repose at the church all night.

Earlier Wednesday, at Washington National Cathedral in the nation's capital, there was high praise for the last of the presidents to have fought in World War II — and a hefty dose of humor about a man whose speaking delivery was once described as a cross between Mister Rogers and John Wayne. Three other former presidents and Donald Trump watched as George W. Bush eulogized his father as "the brightest of a thousand points of light."

President Trump, who once mocked the late president's "points of light" call to volunteerism, had nothing but favorable words Thursday.

"He was a wonderful man. We will always remember this great statesman and beloved American patriot," Trump said. "He really was very special."

The cathedral service in Washington was a tribute to the patriarch of one of the nation's most powerful political families — they occupied the White House for a dozen years — and to a faded political era that prized military service and public responsibility. Like Baker's address Thursday, it included indirect comparisons to Trump but was not consumed by them, as speakers focused on Bush's public life and character — with plenty of cracks about his goofy side, too.

"He was a man of such great humility," said Alan Simpson, former Republican senator from Wyoming. Those who travel "the high road of humility in Washington, D.C.," he added pointedly, "are not bothered by heavy traffic."

Trump sat Wednesday with his wife, the trio of ex-presidents and their wives, several of them sharp critics of his presidency and one of them, Hillary Clinton, his 2016 Democratic foe. Apart from courteous nods and some handshakes, there was little interaction between Trump and the others.

George W. Bush broke down briefly at the end of his eulogy while invoking the daughter his parents lost and his mother. He took comfort in knowing "Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom's hand again."

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Associated Press writer David J. Phillip contributed to this report.

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