Sully, former President George H.W. Bush's service dog

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Bush Saluted By CIA Comrades; Service Dog Sully Comes, Too

December 04, 2018 - 12:32 pm
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The CIA honored its old boss, the only spy chief to become president, with visits to George H.W. Bush's flag-covered casket on Tuesday, joining members of the public who had lined up before dawn to pay respects to the 41st president in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

Besides the thousands of people streaming by, Sully, the late president's service dog, was brought by, too.

At the end of his life, Sully the service dog was Bush's. The yellow Labrador Retriever visited the president's remains in the Capitol rotunda Tuesday alongside other people in wheelchairs that benefited from the Americans With Disabilities Act that Bush signed in 1990.

John Miller, the president and CEO of America's VetDogs, said the Bush family contacted Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after the late president's wife of 73 years, Barbara, died in April. America's VetDogs chose Sully in part for his calm temperament.

"After Mrs. Bush's death, general companionship was a big part of Sully's job," Miller said in a phone interview. "One of the things that I think was important to the president was the rest command, where Sully would rest his head on the president's lap."

Sully is 2 years old. He was named for retired airline pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger III, who became famous for landing a damaged passenger jet on the Hudson River in 2009, saving everyone aboard.

Sully the dog achieved worldwide fame after a Bush family spokesman tweeted a photo of Sully laying by Bush's flag-draped casket with the caption: "Mission completed."

The pup traveled to Washington with the funeral retinue. And on Tuesday morning, officials issued a two-minute warning for Sully's arrival in the Rotunda. Sully padded in, his leash held by Valerie Cramer, America's VetDogs service dog program manager.

At her command, he lay down — and threw a glance over his shoulder at the photographers scrambling to get his photo. He didn't seem fazed. Cramer then led him around the casket to sit among the others. After a few minutes, the procession headed out.

Sully is headed back to America's VetDogs in Smithtown, New York, where he was born and trained, Miller said. Then he'll go for training at Walter Reed to help brace, retrieve and otherwise help the veterans getting care there. Sully will be working with two dogs already in service at the veterans hospital, Sgt. Dillon and Sgt. Truman.

The dogs provided by America's VetDogs are provided free of charge for a service that can cost upward of $50,000 to breed, train and place them, Miller said.

In the midst of the mourning, the Trumps invited the Bush family to share some holiday cheer with a tour of the Christmas decorations at the White House. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited Bush's casket in the hushed Capitol on Monday evening, standing with their eyes closed before the president gave a salute.

Trump and his wife were to visit the Bush family at the Blair House presidential guesthouse Tuesday.

Although the president will attend Bush's national funeral service Wednesday, he is not among the eulogists announced by the Bush family, a list that includes the late president's son, former President George W. Bush.

"The elegance & precision of the last two days have been remarkable!" Trump tweeted of the funeral ceremonies, which opened in Texas and came to Washington on Monday, with Bush lying in state at the Capitol until the Washington National Cathedral service.

Dignitaries came forward starting Monday to honor the Texan whose service to his country extended three quarters of a century from World War II through his final years as an advocate for volunteerism and relief for people displaced by natural disaster. President from 1989 to 1993, Bush died Friday at age 94.

On Tuesday, CIA Director Gina Haspel and former directors John Brennan and George Tenet visited Bush's casket, as did Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Bush assembled the coalition that rescued Kuwait from Iraq's invasion in the Gulf War.

Trump's relationship with the Bush family has been tense. The current president has mocked the elder Bush for his "thousand points of light" call to volunteerism, challenged his son's legacy as president and trounced "low-energy" Jeb Bush in the Republican presidential primaries en route to office. The late President Bush called Trump a "blowhard."

Those insults have been set aside, but the list of funeral service speakers marked the first time since Lyndon Johnson's death in 1973 that a sitting president was not tapped to eulogize a late president. (Bill Clinton did so for Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush eulogized Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.)

Joining George W. Bush as eulogists Wednesday: Alan Simpson, the former senator and acerbic wit from Wyoming, Brian Mulroney, the former Canadian prime minister who also gave a eulogy for Reagan; and presidential historian Jon Meacham.

In an invocation opening Monday evening's ceremony, the U.S. House chaplain, the Rev. Patrick J Conroy, praised Bush's commitment to public service, from Navy pilot to congressman, U.N. ambassador, envoy to China and then CIA director before being elected vice president and then president.

"Here lies a great man," said Rep. Paul Ryan, the House speaker, and "a gentle soul. ... His legacy is grace perfected."

Vice President Mike Pence and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell also spoke.

Political combatants set aside their fights to honor a Republican who led in a less toxic era and at times found commonality with Democrats despite sharp policy disagreements. Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a past House speaker nominated for the post in the new Congress, exchanged a warm hug with George W. Bush and came away dabbing her face. Bush himself seemed to be holding back tears.

Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, placed wreaths in the short ceremony before the rotunda was opened to the public.

Sent off from Texas with a 21-gun salute, Bush's casket was carried to Joint Base Andrews outside the capital city aboard an aircraft that often serves as Air Force One and designated "Special Air Mission 41" in honor of Bush's place on the chronological list of presidents.

Cannon fire roared again outside the Capitol as the sun sank and the younger President Bush stood with his hand over his heart, watching the casket's procession up the steps.

Bush was remembered just feet away from what he called "Democracy's front porch," the west-facing steps of the Capitol where he was sworn in as president.

Although Bush's funeral services are suffused with the flourishes accorded presidents, by his choice they will not include a formal funeral procession through downtown Washington.

On Sunday, students, staff and visitors had flocked to Bush's presidential library on the campus of Texas A&M University, with thousands of mourners paying their respects at a weekend candlelight vigil at a nearby pond and others contributing to growing flower memorials at Bush statues at both the library and a park in downtown Houston.

"I think he was one of the kindest, most generous men," said Marge Frazier, who visited the downtown statue Sunday while showing friends from California around.

After services in Washington, Bush will be returned to Houston to lie in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church before burial Thursday at his family plot on the library grounds. His final resting place will be alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years who died in April, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

Trump has ordered the federal government closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.

Bush's passing puts him in the Washington spotlight after more than two decades living the relatively low-key life of a former president. His death also reduces membership in the ex-presidents' club to four: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.