The sky was grey. The air was chill. The streets were wet from persistent drizzle. But there was no mistaking the sound of jet engines.
Just before 3:30 p.m. yesterday — Thursday, December 6 — there was thunder in the sky. Well-trained naval pilots departed from the Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Texas headed south to College Station for one final bit of pageantry in conjunction with the funeral for the 41st president of the United States.It was a fitting tribute to George Herbert Walker Bush, himself a former naval pilot.
Instinctively, I stepped outside; instinctively, I stood at attention on the patio and looked up at the overcast sky. I could not see the jets as they streaked over the city. But I did not expect to. It was enough to hear the sound. And it seemed to last a long, long time.
This was not a CAVU day, I thought. Ceiling and visibility for the pilots was far from unlimited. But I was certain they would not be deterred on this, of all days. I hoped that the skies would clear in College Station so that the crowds gathered to pay tribute to President Bush would witness what was to be the largest “Missing Man Formation” ever flown.
Indeed, about 40 minutes later, the planes in tight formation appeared on the TV screen. The funeral train had arrived at its destination, and the casket was carried out of the rail car with military precision to the strains of Ruffles and Flourishes.
Soon after, the aerial honor guard drowned out the National Anthem as mourners, military honor guards, and the crowds gathered to pay homage stood at attention.Timing was perfect.
The 21 planes came in waves of four, until finally one peeled away, headed for the wild blue yonder far above — or for heaven, if you prefer, carrying with it the spirit of the departed leader.
The symbolism is inescapable. A flyover is always impressive. It was beautifully choreographed in honor of a president who almost lost his life when his plane went down over the Pacific during World War II.
Today, the memory of that sound — the thunder of jets overhead — became even more poignant because of the date. On December 7, 1941, it must have been a similar sound — multiplied a hundred times over — that accompanied the dark cloud of enemy planes flying low over Pearl Harbor.
That long-ago thunder in the sky subsequently shaped the destinies of many men, including one who would become president some 48 years later.
Yesterday our military forces and Texas A&M Cadets honored a former commander in chief. Earlier, presidents and friends, legislators and colleagues, and the American public had remembered him in Washington, Houston and all across the nation. The tributes were memorable and heartfelt.
Today, we commemorate another event in history. As we should. And we pay tribute in a different way. As we should.The words on the facade of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library on the grounds of Texas A&M University express it all, eloquently.
Note: CAVU is an aviator’s acronym, as explained at the Bush memorial service in Washington, that stands for “ceiling and visibility unrestricted,” meaning that it’s a good day for flying. In more modern vernacular, the “U” is also for unlimited, and it is a mindset for those who choose to live life to its fullest.