President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump made an unannounced visit Monday evening to the Capitol Rotunda where the casket of former President George H.W. Bush lies in state.
The couple entered the rotunda and held hands as they quietly approached Bush's coffin draped in the American flag.
A solemn-looking president saluted Bush's remains while the first lady pressed her right hand over her heart.
They left about a minute later - as silently as they arrived.
U.S. Capitol Police cleared the rotunda of visitors before the first couple arrived. The doors to the rotunda had opened about 45 minutes earlier for members of the public to come pay their respects.
But the room was virtually empty when the first couple entered and eerily silent. It was dark outside but the Dome was lit up as the building will be open to public viewing through out the night and through Wednesday morning.
Only the click, click of cameras greeted the president and first lady, who were not escorted by Congressional leaders. The Senate Sergeant at Arms and House Sergeant Arms brought them into the room.
They were solemn in their approach - the first lady in a black coat and black high-heeled boots; the president in a dark overcoat and red tie.
Neither of them said anything and, within five minutes of their departure, the rotunda had been reopened to the public. Well-wishers poured into the room to pay their own respects to the 41st president.
The president and first lady will attend Bush's memorial service at Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday despite the years-long tension between Trump and the Bush dynasty.
But Trump, the sitting president, will not deliver a eulogy for the former occupant of the Oval Office.
The Trumps visited hours after his Vice President, Mike Pence, delivered a stirring tribute to the 41st President.
Trump and his wife were not present for the procession where Pence, a former congressman, represented the current White House.
The sitting president ordered flags to fly at half-staff at the White House and declared Wednesday a national day of mourning.
He was expected to visit privately with the Bush family at Blair House, located across the street from the presidential office and residence on Pennsylvania Avenue, and to attend funeral services in Washington for the late president.
Trump has bad blood with the Bush family and did not attend the late first lady Barbara Bush's funeral in April. His wife Melania was photographed with nearly every living president, including George H.W. Bush, in her husband's absence.
The Bushes also have little affection for Trump after he belittled Jeb Bush relentlessly during the 2016 race for the Republican nomination.
In the 2016 campaign, the businessman harangued Bush's elder son for the Iraq War and called his younger son 'low-energy' as they traded barbs.
The former Republican president subsequently referred to Trump as a 'blowhard' and revealed after the election that he voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Still, the president and first lady will go to the National Cathedral on Wednesday, the White House has confirmed, where the late president will be honored in remarks by his ex-president son, George W. Bush.
At the ceremony on Capitol Hill on Monday, Vice President Pence led a chorus of congressional leaders in honoring the former president, vice president and World War II veteran. Pence gave the man who he said set the 'standard' for doing the job while serving an outsider president a heartfelt goodbye.
Three months before his death, after he was no longer signing autographs, Bush made an exception for a marine aviator who was about to be awarded his golden wings after graduating from flight school, Pence revealed on Monday during the ceremony honoring the late U.S. president.
That young aviator was Marine 1st Lt. Michael Pence, the VP's son, who had landed his first tailhook earlier that summer on the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush.
'Congratulations on receiving your Wings of Gold, I know how proud you and your family are at this moment,' a letter from the 94-year-old president said, according to the elder Pence. '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.'
The acronym CAVU stands for 'ceiling and visibility unlimited' and has been used by naval pilots since WWII, Pence explained at the service for Bush in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington.
Bush told his children before his death that the term 'describes my own life as it has been over the years and as it is right now, ceiling and visibility unlimited.'
'Now that may well describe the essence of this man, and it may well have been his vision,' Pence said as he paid homage to the late president on behalf of the current administration. 'The vision he had for his life, for his children, his children's children and his country — no barriers, no boundaries, no limits.'
Pence said that Bush shared the same message with his own son in the letter that was dated August of this year and arrived in time for his son's winging in September after he wrote the former president asking for his autograph.
'I took the liberty of writing the ship's namesake to ask for a small favor. I didn't write him as a cice president to a former president, I just write as a proud dad of a marine aviator to a former navy pilot,' Pence explained. 'I asked him to sign a picture of the flight deck that I could give to my son.'
The vice president said that he was told by Bush's staff that the former president had long since ended the practice. 'And we understood that,' Pence said in his eulogy.
'But little to my surprise, just in time for my sons winging, there came not only a signed photograph but of course a letter, hand-signed as well August 2018,' said Pence, a former congressman from Indiana.
The remains of the late U.S. president arrived to lie in state late Monday afternoon as family members, senators, congressmen, cabinet secretaries, members of the Supreme Court, and distinguished guests, gathered in the Capitol Rotunda to honor the 41st President of the United State.
'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,' Pence said of the faith that he said 'sustained' the later president. '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.'
Pence said: '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.'
On Wednesday, the former first lady and her husband Bill announced Monday that they would attend Bush's funeral in Washington but not the second service this week in Houston as Bush's flag-draped coffin was laid to rest on the catafalque built to rest the remains of Abraham Lincoln beneath the Capitol's Dome to lie in state until Wednesday morning.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell noted Bush made a similar journey to the Capitol 30 years ago, when came to be inaugurated as the 41st president of the United States.
McConnell recalled Bush's words from his inaugural address: 'He said we met on democracy’s front porch – a good place to talk as neighbors, a good place to talk as neighbors and friends.'
'Today this hero has returned to the Capitol a final time not on the front porch of democracy this time but here in its hallowed cathedral,' he said.
Bush's remains arrived at the U.S. Capitol on Monday after a 1,200-mile flight from Houston and a dramatic motorcade that grabbed the nation's attention with flashing lights and pealing sirens.
A military band played 'Hail to the Chief' and a four-cannon salute rang out as the sun was setting over the Capitol on an unseasonably warm December afternoon.
The afternoon pallbearers, military men all, hoisted the casket up the formidable Capitol steps in cadence, making their way up the marble stone staircase.
As 'A Mighty Fortress is Our God' echoed off the pavement, the setting sun seemed to bore into George W. Bush, the late president's eldest son who also shared his office.
The younger George stared ahead stoically as his father's coffin and its flag drapery passed. Members of the Bush family joined him atop the Capitol to watch their elder statesman's remains arrive to lie in state beneath its dome.
Shadows of men and women in military dress uniforms lengthened. Ceremonial honor guardsmen's sabers glinted in the late light. And with 55-degree temperatures holding on a December day, America began to say its goodbyes.
Inside, a list of dignitaries awaited just the ninth U.S. president to lie in state there. They included Gen. Colin Powell, the late President Bush's secretary of state, and James Baker, his lifelong friend who served him for decades in his political campaigns, at the White House, and across the globe.
Bush died Friday at the age of 94. He will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Wednesday morning, when the week's series of somber events continues with a memorial service at the National Cathedral.
Former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell were also on hand to honor Bush, along with Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday.
The arrival ceremony on the Capitol plaza involved breathtaking views of a silent sunset that shone off the Supreme Court and Library of Congress, reflecting the sadness of a nation that senses the uncertainty of a page turning.
George H.W. Bush's casket reached an airbase near Washington aboard the plane that he and his son George W. Bush both used as Air Force One.
The elder Bush spent four years in Congress, one at the helm of the CIA, eight as vice president and four in the White House.
'Special Air Mission 41' – the aircraft known as Air Force One when living presidents are aboard – touched down just before 3:30 p.m. at Joint Base Andrews, where a Cadillac hearse flying the U.S. flag and bearing the Seal of the President of the United States waited on an expansive tarmac.
Along with a military band and honor guards arrayed like parade-ground marchers without a commander to review them, a contingent of 114 crew members of the USS George H.W. Bush stood at attention while the jumbo jetliner touched down and taxied.
Aboard the plane with the former president's remains were his sons George W. and Neil and their families. George W. Bush was America's 43rd president. Former first lady Laura Bush also made the trip from Houston.
So, too, did Sully, the late president's service dog.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2016, joined the extended family along with his wife Columba, on the tarmac.
Family and former staffers attended a brief departure ceremony Monday at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, a Texas Air National Guard base, watching as a contingent of eight soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines took Bush's flag-draped casket to the Boeing 747 for a last trip to Washington.
At Ellington and at Joint Base Andrews in D.C.'s Maryland suburbs, 21-gun salutes boomed and military bands played 'Hail to the Chief.'
At JBA, they also played 'America' as a color guard hoisting a yellow-fringed U.S. flag advanced in front of the pallbearers in a somber scene Americans see only a few times each generation.
Bush's casket on Monday occupied part of one cabin onboard whose seats were removed from the plane by a flight crew after Trump's return Sunday from the G20 summit in Argentina.
Specialized scissor-lift trucks at both airfields delivered and retrieved the casket with only stiff-blowing breezes as soundtracks.
'Bush 43' and Laura, the former first lady, climbed the plane's stairs in Houston and gave a somber wave, followed by the rest of of the extended family.
A few minutes later 'Poppy,' as the grandchildren of the man who was once the U.S. military's youngest fighter pilot called him, was airborne.
In Washington, the centerpiece of the week's remembrances will be a memorial service at the National Cathedral.
Sitting presidents have delivered eulogies at the last three presidential funerals. George W. Bush eulogized Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. Bill Clinton spoke at Richard Nixon's funeral.
Secret Service agents had carried the president's body out of the George H. Lewis Funeral Home in Houston, placing it in a hearse for a motorcade-drive to Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, where the world's most famous aircraft awaited.
As the procession took up the southbound lanes of Interstate 45, motorists driving along the northbound lanes pulled over in a miles-long show of respect.
The departure ceremony featured a 21-gun salute and a U.S. Army Band contingent from Fort Sill, Oklahoma playing 'Hail to the Chief,' plus the four 'Ruffles and Flourishes' trumpet fanfares that precede it.
The late 41st president's son Neil also accompanied his body on the unique Boeing 747, renamed 'Special Air Mission 41' for the flight, as it travels to Joint Base Andrews in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.
Sully will be reassigned to a wounded warrior at Walter Reed Naval Medical Center near Washington. The dog was photographed lying in front of Bush's casket at the funeral home on Monday.
The pair of planes that serve as President Trump's 'Air Force One' jets were first placed into service during George H.W. Bush's time in office. They are scheduled to be retired in 2021.
After a public viewing at an Episcopal church in Houston, Bush's casket will be placed on a Union Pacific train car and pulled 70 miles to the town of College Station, home of Texas A&M University, where his presidential library is located.
Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower were honored in the same way, traveling to their final resting places on trains that Americans lined up to see as they passed.
The locomotive chosen for his final journey was customized in Bush's honor in 2005 and painted with the number '4141' in his honor. He marveled at its unveiling that year and asked to take it for a ride.
On Thursday his casket will be in a train car with Plexiglas windows to allow people to see it during the trip.
The 41st president died at his Houston home on Friday night, seven months after his wife Barbara passed away.
After services in Washington, attended by President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, there will be another funeral in Houston on Thursday followed by burial at the Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.
Bush will be laid to rest alongside his wife of 73 years and Robin Bush, their daughter who died of leukemia in 1953 at age 3.
Trump tweeted late Monday morning: 'Looking forward to being with the Bush Family to pay my respects to President George H.W. Bush.'
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.