State Funerals: Planning the Last Wishes of a President

State Funerals: Planning the Last Wishes of a President

State Funerals: Planning the Last Wishes of a President banner

With the death of former President George H. W. Bush last week, we are reminded that a presidential funeral is a national event that demands intensive and detailed planning. Plans for state funerals are often determined years in advance, and former presidents must complete planning for their own state funeral within one year of leaving office. The elements and character of the state funeral often reflect the deceased’s life and achievements.

Who Gets a State Funeral?

Those entitled to a state funeral are the President of the United States, a former President of the United States, the President-elect of the United States, or any other person designated by the president. The last state funeral occurred in 2007 when President Gerald R. Ford lay in state at the Capitol.

What Goes Into Planning a State Funeral?

To date, presidential families have been able to personalize the event, including a military parade, a horse drawn-caisson to transport the casket, specific service speakers, and the motorcade route.

The Commanding General of the Army, Military District of Washington (MDW), coordinates state funeral logistics and ceremonial arrangements. Representatives of all branches of military service will serve as pallbearers; however, honorary pallbearers are also named. The State Department is also responsible for notifying heads of state, coordinating, and ranking the delegates who will attend the funeral.

A joint task force of nearly 4,000 military and civilian personnel in the capital region has coordinated the apparatus involved in several days of carefully observed traditions, protocols, and ceremonies for the public memorial to an American head of state.

The Office of the Chief of Protocol will send a notification to Heads of Missions in Washington, D.C., who then communicate arrangements regarding various ceremonies to embassies. The Chief of Protocol also sends notes to the heads of states attending and details their role in the services. They also maintain a “book of condolences” in their office. The Office of Protocol also determines the seating arrangements for foreign representatives at the cathedral in Washington, D.C., and arranges for the identification of cars at the cathedral.

President George H.W. Bush’s Funeral Details

The 41st president of the United States will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda beginning at 5 pm, Monday, December 3, 2018, through 7 am on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Next, a state funeral will be held at the Washington National Cathedral before his remains are returned to Houston by railroad for burial. An admirer of trains, the president will be carried on a unique car that was dedicated to him in 2005. The locomotive, dubbed Bush 4141, has been painted to look like Air Force One and has a special glass-viewing car designed to carry his remains to internment.

Once his remains arrive in Texas, a funeral service is planned to take place at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. Finally, President Bush will be buried next to his wife, former First Lady Barbara Bush, in their family plot located behind the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A & M University.

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