Many Americans consider President George H.W. Bush an outstanding example of the "greatest generation," and his passing was commemorated across the nation and the world with heartfelt ceremonies and memorials. Thousands of Americans passed before the President's flag-draped casket lying on the Lincoln catafalque in the Capitol Rotunda, and many thousands more lined the railroad tracks for his final journey home by special train from Houston to College Station, Texas.
For many, the most poignant moments came when a flight of Navy aircraft passed over the President's final resting place next to his beloved Barbara, in the heart of a university community that has become home to his indomitable spirit.
In honor of President Bush's distinguished Navy service in WWII, and reminiscent of the well-known "21 Gun salute" that is reserved for the country's most significant heroes, the US Navy flew a 21 aircraft "Missing Man" formation over the grave site. While the normal formation is four aircraft, the Navy felt a special bond with this President, and so this was the first time in history for a 21 aircraft "Missing Man" formation.
The "21 Gun Salute" comes from a centuries-old naval tradition of firing every gun on the ship as a signal of noble intent before entering a foreign port, and has evolved into a tradition followed around the world to honor fallen heroes.
The "Missing Man" formation dated back to before WWII and was first flown by Britain's Royal Air Force to honor a beloved Air Marshall. Since that time the formation has been flown around the world on special occasions, and like the "21 Gun salute" it honors those who the nation holds in special reverence.
Naval aviators clamored for the privilege of flying in this formation. Rear Adm. Roy Kelley, commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic, noted: "In addition to being our president, he was also one of our brothers. His service to our Navy and nation merits a tribute of this magnitude."