09:24:14 am on
Thursday 21 Mar 2019

To Honour the Fallen
AJ Robinson


Former US Senator Robert "Bob" Dole
salutes the casket of former President George H W Bush.

I was never a fan of George H W Bush. I’m sorry. I know, now that he passed, we’re supposed to get all mushy and sentimental; we must say what a great fellow was H W. I don’t remember him that way. I’m not going to write about all his shortcomings and failures, his infamous “Chicken Kiev Speech” or his ignoring of the AIDS crisis; that’s too easy.


Senator Robert "Bob" Dole.

No, instead, I will note of how he was honoured. What contrasts honouring him brought home to Americans, recently. First, there was former Senator Robert “Bob” Dole. I didn’t think he was still alive. I knew he was older than Bush, but, at 95, he’s still around.

Confined to a wheelchair, Dole showed up at the Capitol Rotunda to see the coffin holding H W, as he lay in state. That Bob Dole made the effort was impressive enough, but he didn’t stop there. An assistant helped him stand; he freed his left hand and saluted his former comrade and political adversary.

Dole used his left hand to salute; his right arm badly injured, as he rescued a fellow soldier during heavy combat in World War II; his right arm is almost useless, today. For years, he dealt with the pain by continuously clutching a pen in his right hand as well as to avoid inadvertently trying to shake right hands with someone.

Dole did not let any disability hinder his efforts to show proper respect to a fallen soldier. Bush was not merely a former president; he was also a flyer during World War II, a veteran, as is Dole. During combat, Bush downed by an enemy plane over water, he almost drowned.

Were it not for the chance passing of a US Navy submarine, Bush probably would have drowned or died of hunger or thirst; he would have been one name among many on the casualty lists. His parents and widow would have gotten the standard War Department telegrams and they would have grieved like so many other Gold Star families. By the way, film of his rescue is readily available on the internet.


It was more than a simple gesture.

I found this moment particularly touching. A wounded, aging Bob Dole, struggled to stand, with much help, to salute George H W Bush. This was more than a simple gesture. Dole and Bush had known each other for many years. Their relationship was far from cordial at times. They were adversaries not enemies; rivals not foes.

Congress works best when it’s an adversarial process. Democrats and Republicans are adversaries, rivals, in the best interest of the America. There were intra-party rivalries, too.

Dole and Bush were political rivals. They ran against each other for president; many times exchanging harsh words and mean-spirited political advertisements. Yet, there was always an underlying respect, one for the other, which was yet another aspect of the act that struck me.

I had to wonder, as I watched Dole, what, years from now, might be involved in the funeral of Donald J Trump. Would anyone make such an effort on his behalf? I think not, at least not sincerely and respectfully. I suspect his children may speak, if briefly, of him.

At the formal church service, Trump and Melania shook hands with Barak and Michelle Obama and no one else, if only because they sat next to each other. The Clintons and the Carters ignored the Trumps; didn’t even look at them. Many people spoke at the funeral. Trump did not. George W Bush eulogised his father; it was was quite touching, as any son who has lost a father knows and a great many of his words held extra meaning today.

Many of the eulogies contained comments that were painful reminders of the horrid political discourse with which we are dealing today. Yet, no one spoke with malice, none of their words directed explicitly at Trump; the words gave praise to Bush. It is truly sad that the parting words of friends and family offered at one president’s funeral should serve to emphasize all that is lacking in the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The time-honoured traditions, which surround the passing of a president, prime minister or other deserving leader, are messages for current leaders, too. If you want us to remember you this way, do as little harm as you can, while you have the chance. George Herbert Walker Bush made mistakes, but, in retrospect, he was a decent president and man.


Let’s see what the future holds.

Sitting at my television, watching the service, I hoped that Trump might take their words to heart. I knew that wouldn’t be the case. No, that day was a day to honour a fallen soldier and president and, beyond that, nothing.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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