Disabled veteran recalls his 2015 visit to Bush family home
WASHINGTON - Three years ago, Tyler Jeffries, a double amputee from his service in Afghanistan, got a surprise invitation during a wounded warriors event at the Bush family’s summer home in Maine: Propose to your girlfriend right here now.
She arrived in Kennebunkport that day, and with George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Barbara Bush and other Bush family members looking on, Jeffries got down on a prosthetic knee and asked his question. The answer was yes.
“Congratulating Tyler Jeffries and Lauren Lilly on their engagement, and wishing them a lifetime of joy together,” the senior Bush tweeted afterward.
On Tuesday, Jeffries made his way from North Carolina to join the throngs of people paying respects to former president George H.W. Bush as he lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda on the day before his funeral at the Washington National Cathedral.
People who endured biting cold, sniffing dogs and a maze of hallways leading to the physical and spiritual heart of the U.S. Capitol praised Bush for his grace and for his many achievements, from serving in Congress and heading the CIA leading to becoming Ronald Reagan’s vice president, and for his years as a wartime president.
A Statesman Remembered: Full coverage of the passing of George H.W. Bush
A day after official Washington paid tribute to Bush in a Capitol ceremony, Neil Bush, the president’s son, visited the casket. Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad, whose country was freed after the Iraq invasion during Bush’s presidency, also was led in.
Former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, who twice competed with Bush for the GOP nomination for president, was helped from his wheelchair by an aide to offer a salute with his left hand. Bush’s service dog, Sully, whose photo lying alongside the casket went viral over the weekend, was led into the Rotunda for a visit.
CIA Director Gina Haspel circled the casket, as did former CIA directors George Tenet and John Brennan.
Colin Powell, a former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the George H.W. Bush presidency, was among former military leaders on hand. After departing the Rotunda, Powell paused in Statuary Hall to wipe away a tear.
Tyler Jeffries, the Army veteran who lost his legs in an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2012, was in a group of disabled veterans who paused at the coffin.
“I was thinking, I wish he was still with us,” said Jeffries, 29.
Jeffries told of being invited to propose marriage at the Bush seaside home after George W. got wind that he was on the verge of popping the question. Overhearing the conversation, George H.W. Bush nodded his approval.
“The Bushes are just very good people who care about everybody,” Jeffries said.
Jeffries and Adam Keys, a friend from their rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in suburban Washington, praised Bush for a lesser-known achievement - signing into law the Americans with Disability Act, far-reaching civil rights legislation that prohibited discrimination against the disabled and guaranteed them an array of opportunities previously denied.
“It’s a small thing to many, but to people like me, in a wheelchair, it’s very big,” said Keys, 34, of Annapolis, Md., who lost both legs and his left hand to an IED explosion in 2010 while serving in the Army in Afghanistan.
Beginning early Tuesday, people lined up to be guided to the flag-covered coffin with the patrician president’s remains. Bush is the 12th president to lie in state in the Rotunda, a ritual that began with Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Gerald Ford (2006) and Ronald Reagan (2004) were the most recent former presidents to receive the honor.
It was a three-generation family outing for Jennifer Roman, who arrived with her 10-year-old son, Matthew, and her father, Herb Male.
“I like any man who loves a strong woman,” said Roman, 41, a physical therapist from Leonardtown, Md. She spoke of her profound respect for Barbara Bush, who died in April in Houston.
What did her son, a fourth-grader, think of the experience? “Very quiet,” he said of the reverential setting.
Tom Hogue, 75, a retired chemical company executive from Washington, summed up Bush’s achievements from his days as a Navy pilot as “the epitome of serving this country. He was what a president should be, his service, his humility, his grace.”
William Sales, 70, a retired Amtrak worker, walked a few blocks from his Capitol Hill home to join the mourners.
“All the coverage of his death has brought me to tears. All the things he did, he was a class act from start to finish,” Sales said.