Citizens gather to honor Senator John McCain

Thousands gathered at the Arizona State Capitol on Wednesday to honor the life of Sen. John McCain, who died Aug. 25 at 81 after battling brain cancer for more than a year. 

The hearse carrying McCain’s casket arrived near Wesley Bolin Plaza via motorcade just before 10 a.m., witnessed by dozens of military men and women in uniform and members of the news media. Many of the senator’s family members, friends and colleagues were already gathered in the Rotunda of the Capitol building for a private ceremony.

Supporters lined up early near the entrance to the Capitol, waiting to view the casket and pay their respects. Those paying their respects included veterans and people from out of state,  representing a variety of political leanings and backgrounds.

“When you serve in Vietnam, you have a connection,” said Vietnam War veteran Raymond Gonzales, noting the senator’s five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. 

After the war, Phoenix resident Gonzales sought assistance and compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) originating from his time in military service. Gonzales said McCain “opened doors” for him, and that it was a privilege to meet McCain in his office once and shake his hand. 

“I’m here to honor the man,” said Gonzales. “He’s the real deal. I think he’s a uniter of not only veterans, but as a country he wanted to unite people.”

Sister Mary Nelle Gage traveled from Denver Wednesday morning to see the memorial.

“I want to honor this most important American,” Gage said. Gage was “deeply moved” by McCain’s perseverance and loyalty as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, and then later as a U.S. senator.

“He works not just for a political party, but works with all of the senators in order to devise the best solutions for the issues that face the country as a whole,” Gage said. 

Linda Gordon, a Phoenix resident originally from Virginia, said she first met McCain in Ramstein, Germany, and he encouraged her to visit his state. 

“I feel that he represents what it is to be a true American, and I love that he gave his all to his country,” Gordon said. 

When asked about the memorial service inside the Capitol, Gordon said she thought it was wonderful, also noting how rare it is to see such universal support for a politician. The service, which included addresses from Sen. Jon Kyl and Gov. Doug Ducey, was projected on giant screens outside the Capitol for public viewing. 

“To have that honor means you really lived your life in serving people and caring,” Gordon said. “He deserves it.” 

Visitation was open to the public starting at 1:30 p.m.

Memorial events for the senator will take place throughout the week in Arizona; Washington, D.C.; and Annapolis, MD, where McCain will be interred. Onsite memorabilia were placed outside of McCain’s Arizona office and A.L. Moore-Grimshaw Mortuary earlier in the week.

Graham Bosch

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