McCain’s final message

An era was swept away when Sen. John McCain took his last trip down the steps of the United States Capitol in a casket draped in an American flag Saturday. On Sunday, he was buried in the cemetery at the U.S. Naval Academy where it all started 64 years ago when he was a plebe.

McCain’s burial ended a five-day celebration of his life as a former prisoner of war and longtime U.S. Senator from Arizona. It was his final tour of duty, a mission to send a message to America that people have more in common than they think, and that they should strive to find common ground.

He got the chance to plan it all and did so almost with a sense of glee, those close to him said.

“He had a way of making difficult things easy,” his former campaign manager, Rick Davis, said on national television Saturday. McCain started planning his funeral “almost instantaneously” after being diagnosed with brain cancer, said Davis, who was a pallbearer.

“He was really excited about it and there was no detail left unturned,” Davis said.

The first day was Wednesday with a visitation at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Thursday was a ceremony at North Phoenix Baptist Church before his body was transported to Washington D.C. where he lied in state at the U.S. Capitol. He made a stop at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Saturday before his public funeral. It all ended Sunday with a private service and burial at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

At every stop, he was remembered as an American hero who lived a remarkable life. A Vietnamese prisoner of war for five and a half years, he suffered a grueling captivity in a war camp referred to as the “Hanoi Hilton.” He was tortured, lost 100 pounds and left permanently unable to lift his arms over his head.

He went on to be a statesman for more than three decades. He escaped at least two bouts with cancer. An aggressive form of it, glioblastoma, finally took his life Aug. 25.

During his long public service, the navy brat and son and grandson of two military admirals, was a champion for soldiers. His record is too long to list but his causes included a strong military, Native American sovereignty, Arizona’s beauty, and veterans’ healthcare.

Before his funeral, his widow, Cindy, laid a wreath of red and white roses with purple flowers interspersed at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall to honor those who did not come home.

Afterward, his funeral was telecast from the National Cathedral, stunning in its architecture. It was filled with a bipartisan crowd of politicians, world dignitaries, celebrities, and family. McCain’s widow, Cindy, his 106-year old mother, Roberta McCain, and his seven children attended including his two sons who wore their military best.

President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner attended. So did retired generals White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.  

Former presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton sat in a front row pew with their wives. Bush and Obama gave eulogies. So did McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, and a frail Henry Kissinger, 95, who was U.S. secretary of state when McCain was a war prisoner.

Meghan McCain gave a fiery, tearful speech. Though Trump’s name was not mentioned, it was clear who she was speaking of when she delivered several bruising attacks.  

“The America of John McCain does not need to be made great again because America was always great,” she said.

She said her father was “a great fire who burned bright.”

“We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness,” she said. “The real thing. Not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who live lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.”

When Obama and Bush spoke, they called McCain a warrior, statesman and patriot. Obama said he “embodied so much that is best in America.” He also was an “unpredictable contrarian” with a “mischievous sense of humor” who got the last laugh.   

“What better way than to make George (Bush) and I say nice things about him to a national audience?” Obama said.

Bush spoke of McCain as an honored friend who could “frustrate me but he also made me better” and made America better as well.

To think of him gone is hard, Bush said.

“His absence is tangible, like the silence after a mighty roar.”

On Sunday, McCain’s last wish was granted. To be laid to rest next to his best friend, “wingman” and fellow plebe at the naval academy, Adm. Chuck Larson, where it all began.  

Victoria Harker

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