Kenneth and Wanda Deans arrived at about 7 p.m. Monday to take their place in a line that snaked down First Street on the east side of the Capitol to pay their respects to the late President George H.W. Bush.
A retired chief warrant officer, Kenneth Deans served 30 years in the Army, including through the Gulf War. On Monday night, he wore his “Vietnam veteran” cap as he waited to honor Bush, his former commander in chief.
Deans remembered Bush’s visit to Fort Irwin in California, where he was stationed at the time. He said he felt a connection with the president because Bush had also served in the military.
“When you have a president who’s also a hero from the war, and you’re in the military, you feel some kind of kinship,” said Deans, 67, from Alexandria, Va.
Hundreds of others joined the Deanses on Monday in lines that meandered around the Capitol complex to be among the first wave of public visitors to honor the 41st president, who was remembered during an earlier ceremony for his military career, his leadership and his influence at the highest levels of government.
The tribute to Bush, who died Friday in Houston, drew together congressional leaders, White House officials, other Washington politicians, family and friends for the beginning of a weeklong set of events to honor the former president.
“Throughout his life of service, President Bush personified grace. His character was second to none,” said outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “He was the first president I had the chance to vote for. And he was the first president to teach me that in a Democracy sometimes you fall short. And that how you handle that is just as important as how you win.”
Vice President Mike Pence was also among the elected officials in attendance at the lying in state ceremony and spoke in tribute to Bush’s legacy, which stretched beyond politics.
“He was a good man … who was devoted to his wife and family,” Pence said of Bush, whose wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, died in April.
Some speakers focused on Bush’s connection to the military, from leading America into the Gulf War in 1990 to his own service in World War II and his ability to connect with troops in the years that followed.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talked of Bush’s days as a Navy pilot, when on Sept. 2, 1944, the then 20-year-old lieutenant saw his plane hit on a bombing mission. Through the fire and smoke, Bush remained steady at the controls and continued to pilot the plane. Eventually, he was forced to bail out of the aircraft and drifted in a raft for four hours in waters of the Pacific Ocean until he was rescued.
That steady resolve fueled his future leadership throughout various government posts and as commander in chief, McConnell said.
“George Bush was just a teenager when he volunteered for military service and became the Navy’s youngest aviator,” he said. “With his even temperament and hard-won expertise, George Herbert Walker Bush steered this country as straight as he steered that airplane. He kept us flying high and challenged us to fly higher still.”
Among Bush family members in attendance for Monday’s ceremony were son and former 43rd President George W. Bush with his wife and former First Lady Laura Bush and son, former Florida governor and one-time presidential candidate Jeb Bush.
They led a procession at the closing of the ceremony encircling the casket for the late president. They did not speak during the ceremony.
Later Monday night, President Donald Trump, who has been critical of the Bush family, and first lady Melania Trump paid their respects to Bush at the Capitol separate from the official ceremony.
Trump arrived in the midst of the public visitation hours, halting the line for a few minutes as he and his wife visited the Capitol Rotunda. Public visitation hours began at 7:30 p.m. and were slated to continue until Wednesday at 8:45 a.m. A funeral service is also slated for Bush at Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday at 11 a.m.
The Deanses were determined to visit the late president Monday because they hold high respect for the office, but particularly because they’re “very huge believers” in the Bushes, said Wanda Deans, 67.
“They’ve always been very special to us,” she said. “They were both absolutely awesome…and very much supported the military.”
That sentiment was echoed by several military veterans and active servicemembers who visited the Capitol on Monday.
“It’s an honor to participate in things like this, to show our respect for presidents of the past,” said Navy Chief Ronald Ratliff, 44, who works at the Capitol. “It was [Bush’s] kindness that stands out to me.”
Richard Whelan, a 56-year-old retired Navy sailor from Brooklyn, N.Y., happen to be visiting family in Virginia when he decided Monday to come to the Capitol.
“I served in Desert Storm … I’m here out of respect,” Whelan said. Bush is remembered for “his modesty, … his service to country and encouraging people to serve.”
Marine Corps Sgt. Tucker Gourneau, a 31-year-old from Texas, was drawn to the Capitol on Monday for similar reasons.
“His military service and time as a Navy pilot” stand out, Gourneau said. And “he played a tremendous role in the end of the Cold War.”
Timothy and Tracy Hall drove for more than four hours Monday from Durham, N.C., with their three young sons Peter, Stephen and Fritz. Retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Timothy Hall, 54, and his wife Tracy, 49, homeschool their sons and saw the trip as a historic, learning opportunity for their children.
“I served under both Bushes, which is pretty cool,” said Timothy Hall, who served during the Gulf War and then in Afghanistan.
“President Bush was such a wonderful statesman,” Tracy Hall said. “He worked with everybody.”
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