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North Dakotans will join the nation today in honoring former President George H.W. Bush at his funeral at Washington National Cathedral. State voters supported Bush when he was elected president and backed him when he lost his re-election bid.

He served as president from 1989 to 1993.

Bush came from a well-to-do family which would seem to set him apart from most North Dakotans. It didn’t. Early in life and until his death he showed a commitment to service. Upon graduating from high school in 1942 he joined the Navy and became a pilot. At 20, he was shot down in the Pacific Ocean and his two crew members were killed. He was rescued by a submarine.

When the war ended he attended Yale, then joined the oil industry in Texas and later began his public life. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1966; appointed United Nations ambassador in 1971; became Republican National Committee chairman in 1973; named head of the U.S. Liaison Office in China in 1974; appointed chief of the CIA in 1975; served two terms as vice president starting in 1980; and elected president in 1988.

He put together an international coalition in 1991 to drive Iraq out of Kuwait, but showed restraint when he refused to invade Iraq, noting the coalition’s goal was to free Kuwait. He’s credited with overseeing the end of the Cold War with the former Soviet Union.

In retirement he continued to serve. In 2005, along with former President Bill Clinton, he visited areas devastated by the December 2004 Asian tsunami. It’s more than an impressive resume.

Bush’s most notable visit to North Dakota came during his first year as president. On April 24, 1989, he visited Bismarck to plant a tree on the Capitol grounds in honor of the state’s centennial. North Dakota had set a centennial goal of planting 100 million trees in a decade. There was tremendous excitement leading up to the visit. The Tribune published numerous stories before his stop and printed a map showing his motorcade route to the Capitol. It was estimated that 10,000 turned out to see him. He didn’t disappoint.

The Tribune, in an editorial on April 20, 1989, said:

“It is a singular honor for us. Few cities the size of Bismarck are ever visited by incumbent presidents, especially in a non-election year. The president is not coming here to stump; Bush will plant a tree.”

We also said:

“While the event will not be particularly significant, Bush’s presence will make Bismarck the center of the country and even the world for some 90 minutes. And many, if not most of those who attend will remember it for the rest of their lives.”

The tree that Bush planted didn’t survive its first harsh North Dakota winter. However, the editorial was right, the memories of his visit are still with us. From his greeting the Century High School band to the autographs he gave and the speech he delivered, the memories are forever.

The 1989 editorial ended by saying, Welcome, Mr. President.

Now, we can only say, thank you for a life of service, Mr. President.

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