By Alex Johnson, NBC News
When former President George H.W. Bush is laid to rest Thursday afternoon at his presidential library in College Station, Texas, the ceremony will mark the end of a long-established ritual planned, with literally military precision, down to the second.
His family had a large role in planning the funeral for Bush, who died Friday at age 94. But it is the Military District of Washington, part of Joint Task Force-National Capital Region, that is responsible for staging the ceremonies — anti-royalist America's answer to royal pomp and circumstance.
And make no mistake: It is a military operation, befitting a war hero who gave his service revolver to a Navy lieutenant aboard the submarine that rescued him after his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean during World War II. It involves military units coordinating split-second movements in at least three states and the District of Columbia, not to mention the Air Force's flagship jet, Air Force One, which will fly Bush's body from Houston to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Monday morning.
The presidential plane, temporarily renamed Special Air Mission 41 in honor of the 41st president of the United States, will return the former president to Texas on Wednesday after he has lain in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
Traditionally, a former president's body is transported from Joint Base Andrews to the Capitol in a flag-draped, four-wheeled caisson that was built in 1918 to carry a 75-mm cannon. It is escorted by three military march units and personnel from all five military academies, coordinated by the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment — the Old Guard — based at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia.
The procession is timed to advance at exactly 3 mph and 100 steps per minute.
Bush's body will remain at the Capitol until Wednesday morning, when it will be taken to Washington National Cathedral for only the 34th state funeral in the nation's capital in American history, according to the Office of the Architect of the Capitol. It follows the services for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., by barely three months.
(Ceremonies for former President Richard Nixon in his hometown, Yorba Linda, California, in 1994 were also accorded state funeral status.)
It takes 133 pages to lay out all the procedures in an Army manual titled "State, Official and Special Military Funerals." The joint military task force said as many as 4,000 military and Defense Department civilian personnel would be involved in some ceremonial, security or logistical capacity.