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George H.W. Bush funeral: Live updates

Former President George H.W. Bush returned home to Texas Wednesday after a meticulously choreographed state funeral service at Washington National Cathedral. Events commemorating his life and legacy will continue in Houston and College Station, Texas, Thursday.

Bush, who died Friday at age 94, was honored with stories of his bravery in wartime, his compassion and loyalty, and his love of family, friends and country.

Top moments from former President George H.W. Bush's state funeral 2:33

George W. Bush, the 43rd president, gave a tearful eulogy of his father, peppered with jokes and personal reminiscences. Other tributes came from Bush's biographer, Jon Meacham, former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson, and ex-Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump attended the funeral service, along with several former presidents and world leaders.

Scrolls through the NBC News live blog to experience Wednesday's events as they happened.

Bush 41 Funeral

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Goodnight, and thanks for reading. Ceremonies celebrating Bush's life continue tomorrow.

Tonight, the former president will lie in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston.

Tomorrow's events will include a second funeral service at St. Martin's scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET.

Bush's remains will then be transported by funeral train to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, where he will be laid to rest on the grounds of his presidential library located on the campus.

Allan Smith

Bush's plane touches down in Houston

The blue and white government plane carrying former President George H.W. Bush's casket and members of his family landed in Texas just after 6 p.m. on Wednesday as the events commemorating his life and legacy continue.

Friends and family, after deplaning, gathered on the tarmac at Ellington Airport to watch the military honor guard escort the casket from the aircraft to a hearse bearing the presidential seal.

Bush's remains will be transported to St. Martin's Episcopal Church for the next phase of the ceremony, which will include a second funeral service Thursday in the state where he launched his political career.

During that service, Bush's grandson, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, and former Secretary of State James Baker will eulogize the former president.

Following that ceremony, Bush's remains will be transported by funeral train to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. The former president will then be laid to rest on the grounds of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, near his wife, Barbara, and their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

View from left wing of plane carrying Bush home

The presidential plane, dubbed "Special Air Mission 41," conducted a special low-flying tribute flight over the George H.W. Presidential Library Center and the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. 

Bush and Dole: A political rivalry for the ages. And then that final salute.

The scene inside the Capitol this week was arresting: 95-year-old Bob Dole, confined for years to a wheelchair, rising with assistance to offer one final standing salute to George H.W. Bush.

The history behind it made it even more poignant. Born only 11 months apart, but into dramatically different circumstances, the two men forged one of the preeminent rivalries of modern American politics, fueled by shared ambition and shaped by fateful twists and bitter confrontations, with Bush ultimately capturing the prize that always eluded Dole.

They both came to Washington around the same time, but from very different places.

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'41' mowed into the Aggie baseball field at Texas A&M

When "Special Air Mission 41," the government craft carrying the body of former President George H.W. Bush, conducts a flyover 2,000 feet above Texas A&M in College Station, family members on the plane might be able to see another tribute visible down below.

The number '41' — Bush was the 41st president of the United States — has been mowed into the outfield at Olsen Field, home of Aggie baseball. Holly Kasperbauer, the assistant director of the Public Service Leadership Program at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, tweeted pictures of the tribute on Wednesday. 

Nick McKenna, assistant athletic field maintenance manager for Texas A&M Athletics, said in a tweet that the Aggie field staff added "a little something extra to the outfield today in the hopes of providing a special touch to tomorrow's events."

Those Thursday events, part of his funeral services in Texas, include a 21-fighter flyover in missing man formation, which the Navy called "unprecedented" in size. 

Allan Smith

Former aide to George H.W. Bush: 'I'm glad' Trump came to the funeral

Joe Watkins, an MSNBC analyst and White House aide to former President George H.W. Bush, said Wednesday that he was "glad" President Donald Trump attended Bush's state funeral service.

Watkins called Bush's funeral "incredible," adding that "people were crying all around me because it was so moving."

"It was funny and it was moving at the same time," Watkins said. "I mean whether it was Jon Meacham or former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney or Alan Simpson the former senator from Wyoming, who was hilarious but also just so on point, or George W. Bush, the former president who moved so many of us to tears."

On Trump, Watkins said it was "a big step for him to be" in attendance, though he added that he thought Trump "had to be there."

"But I'm glad he was there and I’m glad that he said what he said beforehand and that he was consistent with the spirit of the moment, which was about honoring the memory of George Herbert Walker Bush," Watkins said.

 

Exiting cathedral, Sessions chats with former Senate colleagues. Will he run for his old seat?

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke with former Senate colleagues, including Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., as he exited the cathedral. NBC News asked if he plans to run for his old Alabama Senate seat — which he’s been said to be considering — in 2020.

“I haven’t cleared my brain on that,” he said. He added that he doesn’t yet have a timeline for making a decision. Democrat Doug Jones won a special election last year after Sessions left the seat open to become Trump’s attorney general.

But Sessions, who earned Trump's wrath for recusing himself from oversight of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, was ousted by the president just a day after last month’s midterm elections. Alabama is a heavily Republican state, and the GOP has a good shot at reclaiming the seat in 2020.

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Bush departs Washington for the final time

The former president's casket, accompanied by family, is aboard "Special Air Mission 41," en route to Texas.

The government plane will conduct a "tribute flight" honoring George H.W. Bush over his interment site at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, later this afternoon, according to a news release from Texas A&M University. 

The library is located on the university's campus. 

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ICYMI: George W. Bush continues sweet tradition with Michelle Obama

Bush was caught on video passing a cough drop to the former first lady during John McCain's funeral service in September — and appeared to slip her something sweet ahead of his father's ceremony today, too.

Allan Smith

What's next following Bush's state funeral

With the former president's state funeral service in Washington, D.C., concluded, Bush's casket, accompanied by his family, will now board a government plane and head toward Houston, where ceremonial events and remembrances will continue through Thursday.

Thursday morning, another funeral service will be held at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, where Bush's grandson, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, and former Secretary of State James Baker will eulogize the former president.

Bush told CNN that his grandfather's funeral was an opportunity for the nation to "put politics aside."

Following that service, Bush's remains will be transported by funeral train to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Bush will be laid to rest on the grounds of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, near his wife, Barbara, and their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

Card: Bush's funeral marked 'disappearance' of tribalism that has 'captured America'

Andrew Card, who served as secretary of transportation under George H.W. Bush and later as former President George W. Bush's chief of staff, told NBC News that Bush's funeral was reflective of his decency and respect for others. 

"I found this to be very moving, it was emotional, it was wonderful to see the world coming together to do this," Card said, adding "We saw the former presidents, we saw the president of the United States, this was not a political event, this wasn't a partisan event, this was a celebration of a life well lived and a country served extremely well."

The ceremony marked a "disappearance" of tribalism that has "captured America for so long," Card continued.

"He respected individuals who served, even when he didn't agree with what they had to say," Card said.

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How Bush responded when he heard his own eulogy

NBC's Willie Geist reports that Jon Meacham, biographer and friend to the former president, read the eulogy he delivered today to Bush before his death. 

Here's how Bush responded.

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WATCH: Casket leaves cathedral as Bush heads home to Texas

Funeral attendees stand during last hymn as Bush's casket carried down the aisle

The service is nearing its end, and as the final hymn is sung, the casket is carried down the aisle in procession.

The Bush family, again escorted by Maj. Gen. Michael L. Howard, followed the casket out of the cathedral. 

Prince Charles filed out behind Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor and John Roberts, but as he passed them, they did not appear to exchange any words.

Analysis: W. eulogy exceeded my expectations

I didn't have high expectations for George W. Bush's eulogy for his father. The fraught relationship between them, chronicled in Jacob Weisberg's book, "The Bush Tragedy," suggested it might be cliche-ridden and well short of moving.

It wasn't.

This was a fine moment for George W., a tough moment — as any son who has ever eulogized his beloved father (as I have) must know.

43 was, by almost all accounts, a worse president than 41, who himself wasn't a "great president," no matter what the commentary has been this week. But the better angels of the family — and the nation — came through. Among the lines from his eldest son that rang true for me, as a longtime critics of the Bushes:

"He looked for the good in each person, and he usually found it."

"He showed us how setbacks can strengthen."

"He could tease and needle but never out of malice."

"He was born with just two settings — full throttle, then sleep."

When George W. Bush broke down at the end of his eulogy, it brought a tear to my eye.

I was not crying over the death of his father. He was 94, and his death is no tragedy. And I wasn't crying over the authenticity and beauty of his son's love, though it was moving. I was sad because the Bush family, for all its leadership mistakes over the years, represents a tradition of service and honor and decency in this country that is at risk.

Let's hope these days of mourning can remind us that the generation that won World War II and built a great nation — a man who represented our better selves, or at least an aspiration to love and respect and decency — can inspire us to repair our country.

Jonathan Alter is an NBC News political contributor and analyst. His books include "The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies" and "The Promise."

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Prohibition ended 85 years ago today, NBC's presidential historian notes

Allan Smith

Bush's pastor jokes about service dog Sully's popularity

The Rev. Russell Levenson of St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston spoke at former President George H.W. Bush's state funeral on Wednesday, following an emotional eulogy from former President George W. Bush.

Levenson drew some laughs from the audience when he began by mentioning how the 41st president's wife Barbara, who died earlier this year, would note that his sermons would go on just a bit too long.

Levenson also discussed Bush's final days, noting that former Secretary of State James Baker, Bush's longtime friend, was by his side at the very end. (George W. Bush, in his tribute minutes earlier, said that Baker sneaked his father Grey Goose vodka and steaks from Morton's when he was in the hospital.)

Also getting a hat tip from the pulpit: Sully, the service dog with the former president in his final months. The dog, said Levenson, seemingly "has gotten more press than the president in recent days."

"Mr. President, mission complete," Levenson said, in reference to Bush's stint as a military aviator. "Welcome to your eternal home, where ceiling and visibility are unlimited and life goes on forever."

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'The best father a son or daughter could have': George W. Bush chokes up as he ends eulogy

Analysis: Was Simpson's eulogy as much about Trump as it was about Bush?

Former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who delivered a tribute to Bush earlier in the service, could be a fierce partisan when he was in the Senate. We clashed on more than one occasion, most memorably when we were the two guests on Charles Grodin's old show on CNBC. He accused me of wearing my "Jesus shoes" — a reference to me being high and mighty on some issue I've long forgotten — which I considered strange considering that I'm Jewish. But he was always good for a funny quip and we talked easily in later years.

His eulogy was also terrific, and it included some lines about Bush that are especially resonant in the Trump era. I'm thinking especially of "those who travel the high road of humility in Washington are not bothered by heavy traffic," and "hatred corrodes the container it is carried in."

When he said the latter, I was wondering if any of this talk about loyalty, friendship and decency was sinking in for the president, sitting on the aisle. I doubt it.

Jonathan Alter is an NBC News political contributor and analyst. His books include "The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies" and "The Promise."

Behind the unlikely friendship between historian Jon Meacham and Bush

If you or anyone you know is asked to speak at a funeral, you would be well-advised to read or watch Jon Meacham's beautiful eulogy for President Bush.

Full disclosure: Jon and I knew each other from the Washington Monthly and worked closely together at Newsweek for 15 years. He has helped me on my own history books and we remain friends. Jon getting to know Bush was an unlikely development because Bush, who had a long memory for insults, despised Newsweek for a 1987 cover entitled, "Fighting the Wimp Factor." 

The author of that headline, Jon's close friend and fellow historian, Evan Thomas, has since explained why that cover line was so wrong. Bush soon realized that Jon was a freshman in college at the time and bore no responsibility for it. They bonded almost immediately in ways that are highly unusual between a president and a journalist — though of course Bush was no longer in office and Meacham was more historian than reporter.

His biography was nicer to Bush than I would have been, but he doesn't let him off the hook for the nasty 1988 campaign he ran against Michael Dukakis and his other shortcomings. Anyone who appreciates Jon's eulogy should read that and his other books, on FDR and Churchill, Andrew Jackson and, most recently, difficult moments in American history — more difficult than today — and how we survived.

Jonathan Alter is an NBC News political contributor and analyst. His books include "The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies" and "The Promise."