WASHINGTON — Former President George H.W. Bush is returning to Washington as a revered political statesman, hailed by leaders across the political spectrum and around the world as a man not only of greatness but also of uncommon decency and kindness.
Bush, who died late Friday at his Houston home at age 94, is to be honored with a state funeral in the nation's capital on Wednesday. Following an arrival ceremony Monday, his body will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda for a public viewing until Wednesday morning.
President Donald Trump, who ordered federal offices closed for a national day of mourning on Wednesday, is to attend with first lady Melania Trump and other high-ranking officials.
Bush's crowning achievement as president was assembling the international military coalition that liberated the tiny, oil-rich nation of Kuwait from invading neighbor Iraq in 1991 in a war that lasted just 100 hours. He also presided over the end of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union.
"We didn't agree much on domestic policy, but when it came to the international side of things, he was a very wise and thoughtful man," former Massachusetts Gov Michael Dukakis, a Democrat who lost the presidency to Bush in 1988, told The Associated Press on Saturday. He credited Bush's ability to negotiate with former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev as playing a key role.
"It was a time of great change, demanding great responsibility from everyone," Gorbachev told the Interfrax news agency. "The result was the end of the Cold War and nuclear arms race."
During that time and after, Gorbachev said, he always appreciated the kindness Bush and his family showed him.
In Washington, the former Republican president won praise from leaders of both parties.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan lauded him for leading the nation with "decency and integrity," while Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was a "privilege to work with him."
Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said Bush "befriended political foes, reminding Americans that there is always more that unites us than divides us."
At the G-20 summit in Argentina, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was raised in then-divided East Germany, told reporters she likely would never have become her country's leader had Bush not pressed for the nation's reunification in 1990.
A humble hero of World War II, Bush was just 20 when he survived being shot down during a bombing run over Japan. He had enlisted in the U.S. Navy on his 18th birthday.
Shortly before leaving the service, he married his 19-year-old sweetheart, Barbara Pierce, a union that lasted until her death earlier this year.
After military service, Bush enrolled in Yale University, where he would become a scholar-athlete, captaining the baseball team to two College World Series before graduating Phi Beta Kappa after just 2 ½ years.
After moving to Texas to work in the oil business, Bush turned his attention to politics in the 1960s, being elected to his first of two terms in Congress in 1967. He would go on to serve as ambassador to the United Nations and China, head of the CIA and chairman of the Republican National Committee before being elected to two terms as Ronald Reagan's vice president.
Soon after he reached the zenith of his political popularity following the liberation of Kuwait, the U.S. economy began to sour, however, and voters began to believe that Bush, never a great orator, was out of touch with ordinary people.
He lost his bid for re-election to then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who would later become a close friend. The pair worked together to raise tens of millions of dollars for victims of a 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005.
"Who would have thought that I would be working with Bill Clinton of all people?" he joked in 2005.
Clinton said he would be "forever grateful" for that friendship.
A rainy Saturday afternoon didn’t dampen the Christmas spirit when the annual Orangeburg Christmas parade marched up Russell Street.
Amy Layman and her three children traveled from Branchville to watch the Orangeburg Christmas parade for the first time.
Her three sons – Nickolas Lewis, 13; Cale Layman, 9 and Chance Layman, 7 – each said their favorite thing about parades is candy.
Cale Layman said he enjoys catching the candy.
Along the parade route, there wasn’t any candy to be had from parade participants as the road was wet and slick.
Chance Layman said his favorite thing about being able to watch Saturday’s parade was wearing his kid-sized Santa hat, complete with a fuzzy ball at the end of the red, floppy point.
Terri James brought her two children – Zyron James, 10 and Teriona James, 6 – to the parade.
Zyron James said he enjoys seeing the floats and his sister said she, too, enjoys candy.
“Almost every year we come to the parade,” their mother said.
“It’s so funny, it brings out the child in me,” said Glenda Middleton, accompanied by her husband, Alonzo.
“It’s such a neat thing and be a part of,” she said.
Alonzo Middleton said the Orangeburg Christmas parade “opens the Christmas season up.”
They were both glad the parade was held on Saturday, rather than Sunday, as has been the practice for years.
“We’ve probably missed it for 15 to 20 years because it’s been on a Sunday,” he said.
His wife noted, “I was so thrilled they decided to have it on a Saturday because on Sundays we’re in church.”
“When I saw that it was going to be on a Saturday, I was like, ‘Is this real? Is this true?’” she said.
Another group of parade watchers said that some of the usual Orangeburg crowd went to a Christmas parade in Columbia and didn’t plan to make it back in time for the one held on Russell Street.
The parade rounded up with poncho-clad members of the Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School marching band playing, “This Christmas,” a hit originally recorded in 1970 by soul singer Donny Hathaway.
And as is the custom, Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus waved at parade watchers from the rear of an Orangeburg Department of Public Safety firetruck to help usher in the Christmas season.
Charlie Williams was about 8 or 9 years old when the call came.
“I remember answering the phone and hearing, ‘Please hold for the president’s office,' " Charlie Williams said on Saturday.
He was beginning to learn about prank calls.
“I thought it was just a big joke,” he said.
The day has stayed with Charlie Williams’ brother, too.
“I will never forget when Charlie hung up on George Bush not once, but twice, telling him to quit prank calling,” David Williams said.
Then-President George H.W. Bush’s office reached the brothers’ mother, Karen J. Williams, on the phone at her office.
He’d called to tell her that she’d been nominated to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Fourth Circuit.
The Williams brothers then accompanied their mother to Walker’s Point, in Kennebunkport, Maine, the summer home of the Bush family.
“We visited Maine after making the longest road trip of my life, only to enter a compound that I will never forget,” David Williams said.
“I only imagine how scared my mother was when she took us, not knowing what we’d do,” he said.
Once they entered the compound, he told his mother “This guy must be cool. He has a go-cart track around his house.”
David Williams said, “He was a great man who changed my family’s life for the better. All accounts of his grace ring true to my limited experiences,” David Williams said.
In 1992, Bush nominated their mother to a seat vacated by Robert Foster Chapman. Chapman had reached senior status on May 31, 1991.
Chapman died this past April at age 91.
Karen Williams became the first woman to serve on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In 2007, she became the first woman to serve as chief judge and served in that capacity until her resignation in 2009, after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. She died on Nov. 2, 2013 at age 62.