George H.W. Bush returns to Houston church he spent 50 years worshipping for final goodbye

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George H. W. Bush burial salute.

HOUSTON — The spiritual home for the past half century to George H.W. and Barbara Bush began its final goodbye Wednesday as the 41st president’s body was carried inside with echoes of Hail to Chief still ringing in the air.

The flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush is carried by a joint services military honor guard during a departure ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on Dec. 5, 2018.

And mourners, some dressed in their Sunday finest and some in the clothing of blue-collar workers, streamed in by the hundreds to pay final respects to a fellow Houstonian and onetime leader of the free world who died Friday at 94.

Larry and Nancy Buffington joined the seemingly endless line of mourners because, they said, Bush exemplified the image of a national leader.

“This makes me homesick for the values and integrity that belongs in the White House,” said Larry Buffington, who was in line outside church in Houston for more than four hours.

Nancy Buffington, who met the 41st president several years ago after a commencement exercise at Johns Hopkins University, said she was struck by his down-to-earth accessibility.

“He was so personable,” she said. And larger, physically, than she expected.

“There was a real charisma about him.”

Frank Cano Sr., a Korean War veteran, came with his grown children to say goodbye to a man he only knew from television.

The casket with the remains of former US President George H.W. Bush in the US Capitol during a State Funeral in Washington on Dec. 5, 2018.

“He was our president, said Cano’s son, Frank Jr. “He was only president for four years, but look what he accomplished: The Berlin Wall came down. He built a coalition for Desert Storm. And our dad wanted to be here, because he was a fellow veteran.”

Barry McBee, a White House fellow under Bush in 1989 and 1990, drove from Austin to Houston to join the mourners.

“It was an honor to work for him,” said McBee, an assistant chancellor at the University of Texas System. “He was a man of dignity and grace.”

Bush’s body entered St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston at 6:30 p.m. to the sounds of the U.S. Air Force Band of the West. A parade of emergency vehicles with red and blue lights flashing led the body from Ellington Field to the sprawling red brick church.

“President George H.W. Bush and the late Mrs. Barbara Pierce Bush worshiped at St. Martin’s for more than 50 years, and now it is our turn to show our respect and support as our congregation, as well as our nation, grieve this loss,” reads a message on the website of the 66-year-old church that towers overs Houston’s upscale Tanglewood neighborhood west of downtown.

The flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush is carried by a military honor guard past former President George W. Bush, President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, former President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter at the end of a State Funeral at the National Cathedral, on, Dec. 5, 2018.

Earlier in the day several contingents of uniformed Houston police officers patrolled the grounds while the nearby streets were being blocked off to make way for the motorcade that would carry Bush’s body from Ellington Field after the state funeral in Washington, D.C.

St. Martin’s was founded in 1952 and is now the largest Episcopal church in North America with some 9,000 members. It was also the site of Barbara Bush’s funeral in April.

The final service will be Thursday morning. And then Bush’s body will be taken by the Union Pacific Railroad’s Presidential Train Car for burial alongside his wife and their daughter, Robin, who died from leukemia short of her 4th birthday.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush pauses for a moment while giving a eulogy during the state funeral service of his father, former President George H.W. Bush at the National Cathedral, December 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. President Bush will be buried at his final resting place at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library at Texas.

Former President George Bush touches the flag-draped casket of his father, former President George H.W. Bush, as he prepares to speak during his State Funeral at the National Cathedral, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

George W. Bush cried after speaking at burial.

Trump salutes late predecessor.

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 4: Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Secretary of State Colin Powell (C) and former military officials from the Gulf War salute the casket of the late former President George H.W. Bush as he lies in state at the U.S. Capitol, December 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. A WWII combat veteran, Bush served as a member of Congress from Texas, ambassador to the United Nations, director of the CIA, vice president and 41st president of the United States. Bush will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda until Wednesday morning. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The casket with the remains of former US President George H.W. Bush departs the US Capitol during a State Funeral in Washington, DC, December 5, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The funeral procession carrying the body of former U.S. President George H. W. Bush passes down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, U.S., December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

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