Growing up in Rainier, Curtis Kauffman never expected he’d one day attend the funeral for a U.S. president. But the Marine corporal said he was honored to play an integral role in the services for George H.W. Bush last week.
Kauffman, 26, is one of just 15 Marine Corps body bearers whose job is to perform funerals for Marines and Marine family members. The body bearers are also called in as pallbearers, of sorts, in funerals for senior statesmen, heads of state and former presidents.
Since graduating from his training in April, Kauffman has helped lay more than 125 people to rest, including U.S. Sen. John McCain and President Bush.
“I understand the duty, and I’m grateful to be in the position I am, so I can perform these duties and give back in some small way to these fallen heroes that have given so much to our country,” Kauffman told the Daily News Thursday.
Kauffman joined seven other servicemen on the “Texas team” responsible for getting Bush’s casket to Texas and into the Bush Presidential Museum and Library.
The team included two Marine Corps body bearers, two members of the Army, two members of the Navy, one member of the Air Force and one member of the Coast Guard. (A ninth man, the officer in charge of the casket team, marched behind the pallbearers.)
The group performed a “train sequence,” in which the casket was taken by train to Texas, then driven by a hearse to the Bush Presidential Museum and Library. Kauffman believes this is the first train sequence the body bearers have performed since President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s funeral in 1969.
“It was just another way to honor and pay respects to President Bush,” Kauffman said. “He obviously had a huge impact on our nation as a whole, but also he had a special impact on Texas, so it was a way for him to be transported through the state and brought out his final resting place.”
“Anytime we passed through a small town or city, the amount of people lined up alongside the tracks showing their support for President Bush was just amazing,” he said.
Kauffman served as the “drag man,” a position at the head of the casket. In this role, he was responsible for sliding the casket from the train and hearse so the seven other pallbearers could take their position and grab onto their handles.
Kauffman was also the drag man in Sen. McCain’s funeral in September, but he said he was involved in more sequences for the Bush funeral.
Being a body bearer is physically and mentally demanding, but Kauffman said he’s honored to serve his country in this manner. He will be stationed in Washington, D.C., as part of the Marine Corps body bearers until 2020.
“For me personally, it just comes down to focusing on what really matters, and that’s providing a service for the families,” Kauffman said. “There’s a lot of things that go on behind the scenes to carry out these ceremonies, but none of that really matters. It just matters what the family sees the last time they get to see their loved one.”