Washington, D.C. (WPRI) — A Massachusetts native, who plays with “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, paid tribute to President George H.W. Bush with song during his funeral Wednesday.
Dartmouth High School graduate Master Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Harding, a solo cornet with the band, participated in Bush’s State Funeral at the Washington National Cathedral. Harding, who joined the Marine Band in 1998 and became the solo cornet in 2000, described the experience as “humbling.”
“It’s always a privilege to be a part of such a historical event,” Harding explained. “Being witness to a celebration of his life was a very humbling experience.”
Harding, who was born and raised in Dartmouth, began his musical instruction when he was 9 years old.
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“I have fond memories up there [in New England],” he said. “I’m still a livelong Red Sox and Patriots fan.”
Harding said with the U.S. Marine Band, preparing for sudden performances like this one can be intense.
“When it happens, everybody is all hands on deck. Rehearsals come in quick succession and everything sort of happens really quickly,” Harding explained.
This was not Harding’s first performance at a State Funeral. He also performed during former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford’s funerals.
To learn more about Harding and the Marine Band, click here.
SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) — Parents stood in the back as graduates looked on eagerly. Bryant University President Ron Machtley introduced the 41st President of the United States as their keynote speaker.
“He’s wearing his bulldog tie,” Machtley shouted into the microphone. “Mr. President.”
During a ceremony in May 2008, George H.W. Bush walked to podium to cheers and a standing ovation.
In 2018, Machtley stands in his office remembering his friendship with Bush after learning of his death.
“He had the background, intellect, wit and character to become a great president,” Machtley said.
Machtley was a Rhode Island Congressman during the Bush presidency. Pictures of them together hang in his office, including memories of that very commencement speech.
Underneath a white canopy, Bush showed off some his trademark humor that day in May.
“If at first you don’t succeed, then skydiving is not for you,” Bush joked as the crowd laughed.
Machtley remembers it well.
“I think he made the crowd feel really connected to him, not just as a president, but as a human being,” Machtley said.
“I know there’s little chance that anything I might possibly tell you would be recalled tomorrow,” Bush said during the speech. “That’s just the war graduation speeches are.”
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But Bush’s poignant words certainly left an impression. He spoke about how graduates will be remembered, not for possessions like cars and clothes, but for their character and actions.
“I happen to believe that we are the greatest, freest nation on the face of the Earth,” Bush said. “And if you take nothing else away from this, no amount of fame or fortune is worth losing your very soul.”
CHARLESTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — In November 1943, the sky was humming above Charlestown, Rhode Island. The Navy built three new runways, and brought in dozens of Avenger planes in just one year.
The site had become a new training location to teach young pilots how to land an Avenger on an aircraft carrier. The youngest pilot, went by the name George H.W. Bush.
Bush would tell stories over the years of how he almost crashed on the shore of Charlestown several times while perfecting his craft.
“He did do some night flying, which scared the heck out of him, he said,” World War II Rhode Island author and historian Brian Wallin said. “When you’re up there in the dark, you can imagine what that’s like.”
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Wallin said Bush learned how to handle anything there.
“He was once on a training mission when the escape hatch blew off the back of his Avenger,” he said. “It blew a hole in his tail.”
After 6 months in Rhode Island, Bush was deployed to the Pacific.
September 2, 1944 Bush’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and he crashed in the ocean. He survived, the other two on board did not.
“One was a Providence native,” Wallin said. “Jack Delaney. A radio man. For years afterward, Bush would say how much it bothered him so deeply that two men died and he didn’t.”
Bush would go on to earn a new title: President of the United States. His wife Barbara was always by his side, and their love story was documented by his letters to her.
“He was a very prolific letter writer,” Wallin said.
Wallin has a copy of a particularly beautiful letter written at the Charlestown air field, by Bush to his then fiance, Barbara.
In the letter, Bush details how he is about to be deployed, but ends by telling his future wife how much he loves her.
“Bar, you have made my life full of everything I can even dream of,” Wallin read from the letter. “My complete happiness should be my token of my love for you.”
The place where Bush wrote that letter is now called Ninigret Park. The runways are still visible, but they’re mostly crumbled asphalt in 2018.
One of the few signs left of the once busy air field, an American flag at the entrance, which was flying at half-staff Tuesday in honor of the former president.
Wallin went back to that letter as he glanced over it one more time.
“He had a way with words, didn’t he?” Wallin said.
Take a look at George Herbert Walker Bush’s life, including his time at Yale University.