The Thinker: Rich Galen


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A State Funeral

Rich Galen

Thursday December 6, 2018

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  • I did not go to the funeral for President George H.W. Bush. I, like you, watched it on television.

  • I did go to the Capitol Rotunda on Monday night to pay my respects.

  • I had the excellent judgement to go with the Mullings Director of Standards and Practices, a mutual friend, and Tom Ridge - former Congressman, Governor of Pennsylvania, and first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

  • Quite naturally as soon as the police and Sergeants-at-Arms staff spotted me, doors opened, elevators were held, and subways appeared.

  • That all actually, happened but not, as I know you have already figured out, because of me.

  • Our timing was excellent. We got to the Capitol after the official parties had left, but before the staff and the public (who were already lining up) were admitted. As we entered the Rotunda from the Senate side, an aide whispered the cameras are live which put me on my best behavior. And, because the MD of S&D was at my side.

  • We were led along the rope line to the casket draped in the American flag, sitting atop the Lincoln Catafalque surrounded by the honor guard.

  • The Rotunda, in normal times, doesn't lend itself to raucous laughter, loud talking, or street performers; but on Monday night the quiet was such that it was as if the building itself were showing its respect for the 41st President of the United States.

  • The Governor and I walked up to the edge of the velvet rope surrounding the casket and, without communicating one with the other this E-4 and the E-6 each raised our right hands in a a hand-salute to the memory of a man we respected, appreciated, and revered.

  • Again, without a word between us, we both slowly brought our hands back to our sides; executed a right face, and walked back out of the Rotunda.

  • The ceremonies for Sen. John McCain were not a State Funeral. They were paid for, in large part, by the U.S. Senate. Those for President Bush were under the control of, and largely paid for by, the Military District of Washington, DC.

  • From the Congressional Research Service study of State Funerals:
    The Commanding General, Military District of Washington, U.S. Army as the designated representative of the Secretary of the Army, will make all ceremonial arrangements for State Funerals in Washington, D.C. and will be responsible for the planning and arranging of State Funerals throughout the continental United States.

  • That's where all of the estimated 4,000 active duty, reserve, and national guard personnel get their authority to stand, march, escort, carry, pilot, drive, and fire.

  • It turns out that one can only lie "in state" if their remains are in the U.S. Capitol. Anywhere else, and they are lying "in repose."

  • Also, according to federal law,
    "The flag shall be flown at half-staff 30 days from the death of the President or a former President," and "10 days from the day of death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

  • The planning for a state funeral is so precise that it includes a 1,200 word section just devoted to media credentialing: Print media (1). Digital (3). TV (11).

  • When you stop and think about it, a state funeral is the other side of the coin to a Presidential inaugural - also under the control of the Military District of Washington.

  • I was once asked why there was such a heavy military presence in the planning and execution of an inauguration. "The President is the Commander-in-Chief," I said. "Think of this as the largest change-of-command in the world."

  • In the end, coming or going, these massive events don't happen very often. The most recent state funeral followed the death of Gerald Ford in December of 2006. Unlike annual events like a large convention, or even events that take place every four years like political conventions or the aforementioned inaugurals, those with institutional memory are difficult to find.

  • That's why it is so important for the military to have specific procedures - written, studied, adjusted, and practiced - so that when an American leader dies, he or she leaves with the dignity, honors, and ceremony they have earned through their life's work.

  • One last time for George Herbert Walker Bush: Hail to the Chief.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the Lincoln Catafalque, to both the Library of Congress' and the U.S. Army's pages on State Funerals, and to the Wikipedia page on change of command ceremonies.

    The Mullfoto is of my supplies to watch the funeral of George H.W. Bush.

    -- END --

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