COLLEGE STATION, Texas — As much as it felt like a sad goodbye, it was also a warm welcome home as Union Pacific 4141 rolled into College Station, stopping on the campus of Texas A&M University.
As President George H.W Bush’s flag-draped casket was removed from the train, the renowned Fighting Texas Aggie Band started the song every Aggie and most every Texan recognizes - the Aggie War Hymn.
Texas A&M’s Singing Cadets reverently performed and more than 1,600 members of the university’s Corps of Cadets lined Barbara Bush Drive, saluting the hearse that carried the former president’s body to his grave.
Bush’s journey came to an end at a university he did not attend, but whose traditions drew him in and never let go. "It’s just the spirit of Aggieland. It gets indoctrinated in you somehow,” said Larry Klotz, who graduated from Texas A&M in 1964.
He drove in from Houston to pay his respects.
Standing next to him in the crowd awaiting the train were current A&M freshmen Melanie Champagne and Cassie Schumacher. “We’re seeing history being made,” Cassie said.
“It’s so amazing to call myself an aggie today," Melanie added.
Most of the people gathered along the route only knew the man whose life they celebrated from a far. But Jeannie Kipp knew him as friend. “If I could come up with one word that totally wraps him up, he was real. He was so real,” she said.
Kipp grew up in Dallas, but now lives in College Station. She met the Bushes through years of volunteer work on and off the Texas A&M campus. He even recognized her as one of his “Points of Light.”
She has a photo of the moment he presented her with a certificate, and she recalled how casual the conversation was. “He was more worried about, ‘Hey, Jeannie how are you doing? Good to see you again! How are your kids?’” she said.
Moments after Kipp shared that story, the train carrying Bush’s body passed her by. She got a little emotional. “Yeah, it’s the end of an era,” she said. “But he left a long-lasting legacy.”
Sadness was abundant on the A&M campus, but so was a sense of awe that someone who was once the most powerful man in the world chose College Station for his forever home.