United States Capitol Rotunda
5:17 P.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Speaker Ryan, Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Leader Pelosi, members of Congress, distinguished guests, but most of all to President George W. Bush, Governor Jeb Bush, Neil, Marvin, Doro, and the entire Bush family.
It is deeply humbling to stand before you today at the beginning of a week in our nation’s capital when we will commemorate and celebrate the lifetime of service and leadership of the 41st President of the United States, President George Herbert Walker Bush.
The Bible tells us to mourn with those who mourn, and grieve with those who grieve. And today, on behalf of the First Family, and my family, and the American people, we offer our deepest sympathies and respects to your family. And we thank you for sharing this special man with our nation and the world.
Today, President Bush becomes the 32nd American to lie in state in the United States Capitol Rotunda. Soon, Americans from every corner of the country and every walk of life will make their way to this Rotunda to pay the respects of a grateful nation.
On the death of Abner, it is written that King David said, “Do you not realize that a commander and a great man has fallen in Israel this day?” George Herbert Walker Bush was such a man.
While he was known as the “quiet man,” it was not for lack of nerve or daring. For in all of his 94 years, President Bush never lost his love of adventure and he never failed to answer the call to serve his country.
Born into a tradition of public service, George Herbert Walker Bush began his own life of service when he was still in high school. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, he wanted to do his part, so he enlisted in the United States Navy on his 18th birthday.
On receiving his wings, he became the nation’s youngest naval aviator, and was sent to the South Pacific where his story almost ended. September 1944, on a bombing raid over Chichijima, his aircraft was hit, his engine caught fire, but he still managed to hit his target before bailing out and being rescued by American forces after some four hours at sea.
All told, he flew 58 combat missions, and for his bravery under fire, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. Which would have been enough honor for any American life, but George Herbert Walker Bush was just getting started.
After he came home, he staked his claim to a booming post-war America by making a name for himself in the oil business. For four years, he walked these halls as a congressman from Houston. President Nixon took notice of the young Texan and asked him to be our ambassador to the United Nations. He led our Party during a tumultuous time for the presidency.
And after earning the respect of another President, he did the work of a diplomat as the first United States envoy to China, and led the CIA.
And then, for eight years, George Herbert Walker Bush served as the 43rd Vice President of the United States. I’m told, as he was preparing to become Vice President, he once joked about the job, saying that there was, quote, “nothing substantive to do at all.” (Laughter.)
But as history records, during those years he set the standard as a sound counselor and loyal advisor to an outsider who came to Washington, D.C. to shake things up, to cut taxes, rebuild the military. And together, they did just that.
And then, in 1988, he made history again when George Herbert Walker Bush was elected in a landslide as the 41st President of the United States of America, becoming the first sitting Vice President to win the presidency in more than 150 years of our history.
He served during an uncertain time in the world, made momentous by his leadership. President Bush oversaw the fall of the Soviet Union, the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, and under his leadership, America won the Cold War. He took our nation to war to repel aggression in the Persian Gulf and, through his leadership as Commander-in-Chief and the brilliance of our armed forces, the United States won a decisive victory.
When President George Herbert Walker Bush left office, he left America and the world more peaceful, prosperous, and secure.
President Bush was a great leader who made a great difference in the life of this nation. But he was also just a good man who was devoted to his wife, his family, and his friends.
I was lucky enough to meet him in 1988 when he was Vice President and I was a 29-year-old just getting started in politics. Then, as always, I was struck by his approachability. There was a kindness about the man that was evident to everyone who ever met him. All his years in public service were characterized by kindness, modesty, and patriotism.
He was so modest in fact, that he never wrote an autobiography. But he did leave a record of his life and in the thousands of letters that he wrote.
I’m told that he started writing letters to his parents when he was 18 years old, and over time his circle of correspondence grew to include family, friends, advisers, staff, business associates, former Presidents, and just about anyone who would take the trouble to write him.
After a lifetime of writing letters, my son got one just not too long ago. As I told two of his sons this weekend, when our son made his first tailhook landing as a Marine aviator on the U.S.S. George Herbert Walker Bush, I took the liberty of writing that ship’s namesake to ask for a small favor.
I didn’t write to him as a Vice President to a former President, I just wrote as a proud dad of a Marine aviator to a former Navy pilot. I asked him to sign a picture of the flight deck that I could give to my son.
Now, we were told by the staff that the President had long since ended the practice of signing autographs, and we understood that. But little to my surprise, just in time for my son’s winging, there came not only a signed photograph, but, of course, a letter, hand-signed as well — August 2018. In that letter, President Bush wrote to my son, in his words, “Congratulations on receiving your ‘wings of gold.’ I know how proud you and your family are at this moment.”
And then in words that assured us that the letter came directly from him, he wrote, quote, “Though we have not met, I share the pride your father has for you during this momentous occasion. And I wish you many CAVU days ahead. All the best, G Bush.”
I would come to learn that that acronym, CAVU for short, is a term Navy pilots have used since World War II. It stands for Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited.
President Bush described CAVU, in his words, as “the kind of weather we Navy pilots wanted when we were to fly off our carrier in the Pacific.” And he once wrote a letter to his children saying that CAVU, in his words, “describes my own life as it has been over the years, as it is right now.” Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited.
You know, that may well describe the essence of this man. And it may well have been his vision. The vision he had for his life, for his children, his children’s children, and his country: no barriers, no boundaries, no limits.
So we mourn with those who mourn and grieve with those who grieve, but we do not grieve like those who have no hope for President George Herbert Walker Bush had that hope.
His faith sustained him throughout his life of service. And we pray that faith will be a source of comfort for all those who mourn the loss of this good man and great American.
President George Herbert Walker Bush loved his family and he served his country. His example will always inspire and his lifetime of service will be enshrined in the hearts of the American people forever.
May God bless the memory of the George Herbert Walker Bush. May God comfort his family and friends. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.
5:30 P.M. EST