George H.W. Bush came back to Washington for a final time today, heading for the Capitol to lie in state as the US paid tribute to the 41st president.

Bush's lifetime of service began in the Navy during World War II and ended with four years as president.

Sent off from his beloved Texas with a 21-gun salute, Bush's casket was carried to Andrews Air Force Base outside the capital city aboard an aircraft that often serves as Air Force One.

Former President George W. Bush, the eldest of the four Bush sons, and his wife, Laura, along with brother Neil Bush and his family, boarded the plane for the cross-country trip to Joint Base Andrews outside Washington.

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Students, staff and visitors had flocked to Bush's presidential library on the campus of Texas A&M University yesterday, with thousands of mourners paying their respects at a candlelight vigil at a nearby pond and others contributing to growing flower memorials at Bush statues at both the library and a park in downtown Houston.

"I think he was one of the kindest, most generous men," said Marge Frazier, who visited the downtown statue yesterday while showing friends from California around.

A similar outpouring is anticipated in Washington this week during the state funeral for Bush, who died on Saturday at his home in Houston. He was 94.

Bush, who was president from 1989 to 1993, will lie in state in the US Capitol rotunda for a ceremony and public visitation from today until Thursday.

An invitation-only funeral service is set for Thursday at Washington National Cathedral. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are to attend. Bush's family has not said who will speak at the service. Former President Jimmy Carter also will be there.

Afterward, Bush will be returned to Houston to lie in repose at St Martin's Episcopal Church before burial on Friday at his family plot on the library grounds.

His final resting place will be alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years who died in April, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

- AP

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Sully, the Labrador retriever who was former President George H.W. Bush's service dog, stands next to Bush family members during a departure ceremony at Ellington Field in Houston.
Sully, the Labrador retriever who was former President George H.W. Bush's service dog, stands next to Bush family members during a departure ceremony at Ellington Field in Houston.