At Bush's funeral, an emotional George W. Bush pays tribute to his father

Former presidents, family, friends and former dignitaries gathered at the Washington National Cathedral for the 41st president's state funeral service.
9:56 | 12/06/18

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Transcript for At Bush's funeral, an emotional George W. Bush pays tribute to his father
When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States. A diplomat of unmatched skill. A commander in chief of formidable accomplishment. A gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor. Reporter: Dignity and honor. A lasting legacy for the nation's 41st president. George Herbert walker bush back in Texas tonight for a final farewell. This morning, hundreds gathered in Washington, D.C. For a state funeral at the national cathedral, a ceremony replete with moments of grace and humor. Much like the man it honored. Celebrating a life lived in service to our nation. His son, former president George W. Bush, giving the final eulogy. George W. Bush had a very tough job. He had to be presidential and the son. And that's not easy. In his inaugural address, the 41st president of the united States said this. We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account -- We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend -- A loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood, and town better than he found it. George W. Bush was the first former president ever to eulogize a former president who was his father in this fashion, and he rose to the occasion. A president who's never been known for soaring oratory hit a lot of important points that spoke to George H.W. Bush as a president, more importantly as a person. Reporter: In the front row all the living presidents and first ladies brought together in a moment of unity. Perhaps president bush's final act of service to this country. This was a rare meeting of the presidents' club. The first time all the living presidents were in one place since the inauguration of president trump himself. In some ways it was a familiar setting. A state funeral is the appropriate place for these presidents to gather together, but in other ways it was about as uncomfortable a setting as possible because it was all happening in Donald Trump's Washington. Reporter: Throughout the ceremony today, pockets of lightness. To us, he was close to perfect. But not totally perfect. His short game was lousy. He wasn't exactly Fred astaire on the dance floor. On the primary campaign trail in New Hampshire once, he grabbed the hand of a department store mannequin, asking for votes. When he realized his mistake, he said, "Never know, got to ask." Reporter: A window into some of the more human and private moments of this life-long public servant. In his 90s, he took great delight when his closest pal, James a. Baker, smuggled a bottle of grey goose vodka into his hospital room. Apparently it paired well with the steak baker had delivered from Morton's. Reporter: In the crowd this not so subtle exchange between the 43rd president and the former first lady Michelle Obama. At John McCain's funeral, George W. Bush was sitting near Michelle Obama and passed her a mint. And that became, you know, something that the twitterverse glommed on to. So today they gave her a mint. Reporter: Also on display, moments of sorrow and heartache. Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever. Through our tears let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you. A great and noble man. The best father a son or daughter could have. It's always a hope at a time like this when we can think about what it means to be a true public servant. What it means to put country high on your list. It's always a hope that people will think about that and go on to be better citizens. ?????? Reporter: On Monday, president bush, America's longest living president, was flown from Houston to Washington, D.C. On air force one via special air mission 41. A tribute to his service as a Navy fighter pilot. His trusty service dog, sully, followed him along on his journey, waiting for the president on the tarmac. Thousands paying their respects in the U.S. Capitol rotunda, including the current president and first lady. And this moment. The former senator, Bob Dole, lifted out of his wheelchair for a final salute. The choreography of that final journey to Washington, D.C. And then back home to Texas, I think it's fitting with the way George H.W. Bush understood himself. He was a Yankee through and through. A new Englander. But it was his adopted home state of Texas that came to define him. Reporter: George H.W. Bush was born June 12th, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts. He was the son of a banker who later became a politician. He was 17 when he met the love of his life, Barbara pierce, at a Christmas dance. They would become a love story 73 years strong, the longest marriage in presidential history. Is he still the handsomest man you've ever seen? Yes. Uh-huh, uh-huh. My eyesight's getting bad. God. Golly. Reporter: On his 18th birthday, the young George Bush enlisted in World War II, becoming the youngest pilot in the U.S. Navy. Two years in, he was shot down over the pacific. I knew if I wasn't rescued, I would be captured. And it was -- it was a harrowing experience. Reporter: He was rescued and made it home to Barbara. He went on to Yale where he was captain and first baseman of the baseball team. He and Barbara had six children. George, Jeb, Marvin, and Neil. And two daughters, Dorothy and robin, who died of leukemia at the age of 3. He was very close. I was very close to her. She adoredhim. What was it that pulled you back up on your feet afterwards? He was very strong then. He was wonderful. Reporter: They had moved the family to Texas, where he ran a successful oil business before he entered politics. George Bush, the happy family man, is now George Bush, Republican candidate for the United States senate. Reporter: In 1980, he ran for president for the first time. Ladies and gentlemen, the next president of the united States, George Bush! Reporter: Ronald Reagan went on to win the nomination and the presidency. Bush served eight years as his vice president. And then he ran for president again and won as a moderate. I, George Herbert walker bush, do solemnly swear -- Reporter: When Saddam hussein invited Kuwait, it was president George H.W. Bush who pulled together a coalition of allies to launch "Operation desert storm." Kuwait is liberated. Iraq's army is defeated. Our military objectives are met. Reporter: But with the economy at home faltering, a promise he had made four years earlier came back to haunt him in the 1992 presidential race. Read my lips. No new taxes. Reporter: He lost that bid to Bill Clinton. Just had a great feeling of letting down a lot of people. A lot of people that worked for me. You have this ghastly feeling you let them down. Then you get over it and you go on with your life. Reporter: Before leaving office, he penned a letter for his successor, who sat down with ABC news and read a portion of it. I wish you great happiness here. There will be tough times made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I'm not a very good one to give advice, but just don't let the critics discourage you or push you off course. You will be our president when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success is our country's success. That was George Bush. I thought he was trying to be a citizen in the highest sense of the word. It was profoundly moving to me personally. Reporter: Bush later forged a bond with the man who beat him. Together he and Clinton raised money for the victims of the Indian ocean tsunami, and back here at home, hurricane Katrina. I think it sent a good sign across the country that you don't have -- because you run against somebody, it doesn't make you an enemy. Reporter: Earlier this year, Barbara Bush passed away. Her husband by her side. After mom died, dad was strong. But all he really wanted to do was hold mom's hand again. Reporter: President bush spent his last summer in kennebunkport, Maine, surrounded by family. In October attending the wedding of his granddaughter, Barbara Bush. Family means everything to me. I don't know where I'd be in life if I wasn't blessed with a lot of kids and grandkids and family. Reporter: With five surviving children, 17 grandchildren, and eight grade grandchildren, perhaps the greatest legacy of this American president is family. Last Friday when I was told he had minutes to live, I called him. The guy who answered the phone said, I think he can hear you, but he hadn't said anything for most of the day. I said, dad, I love you, and you've been a wonderful father. And the last words he would ever say on Earth were,. Jimmy: -- "I love you too."

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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