The following is the tribute made by Jack McCain:
First, thank you all for joining in this celebration of my father’s life. Here he is at the end of his long, eventful journey, back where the adventure began. This is the world he always insisted that he knew best, and loved most.
His love/hate relationship with the Academy had long ago warmed into just love, his memories of his time here and the traditions he kept faith with ever after claimed an exalted place in his affections, and were a guiding star in his life. Here he will remain near his classmate, his dear friend of sixty years, Admiral Chuck Larson
Thank you, Admiral Carter for all you have done to see Dad have a proper Navy send off. And thank you to the Brigade of Midshipmen. He would be delighted you were here, and would have wanted to take each of you by the hand, and wish you the best in your military service to come.
All of you here were very special to my father. You are his closest family, friends, and classmates, and my mother and siblings thank you for your place in his affections and your friendship and support for us. You are dear to us.
I have been as impressed as all of you, though certainly not surprised, by my mother’s grace and dignity these last few days, concluding more than a year of devoted care for dad, seldom leaving his side, making sure he lived his last months in comfort and with dignity, in the place he loved so much. Thank you, Mom.
My father was a great man. There are challenges associated with having a great man for a father, though, I will admit, the advantages outweigh them. Great men cast large shadows. Their example can be hard to emulate. My father knew something about that challenge, having been son and grandson of great men, and he knew how to ease the burden on us without depriving us direction.
He knew to set an example for us, and to show us in word and deed how to live honorable, purposeful lives. But he gave us the freedom and the respect to trust us to choose our own way. He didn’t expect or want us to attempt impersonating him. After all, who could? He just wanted us to know that he only satisfying – truly satisfying life – is to live adventurously and bravely in service to cause bigger than ourselves. The routes we took were up to us. That was the respect his father had shown him.
Dad was a naval officer and a statesman. He had big responsibilities that claimed much of his time and attention. His seven children had to make the most of our time with him. We had to live as he lived, rushing along with him enthusiastically from one thing to another. Dad didn’t waste time, not a minute. To live nearly 82 years without squandering a day of it is quite an achievement.
The attack pilot was always alive in him. As he was not a fighter pilot, as he would sharply tell you. The way he dove into life, the way he confronted problems with daring and tenaciousness. He was relentless and resilient. Life with him was exhausting and exciting and fascination and an awful lot of fun. “Let’s go, boy,” he’d instruct, and off we’d go, hurtling into another adventure, struggling to keep pace with that stiff-legged, quick step gait of his.
He and I hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim about ten years ago. He liked to hike and he loved the canyon. He also wanted to demonstrate to the public, and I think to himself, that he still had the physical stamina to run for president again.
That was the only time I remember seeing him in obvious pain. He lived with pain for decades after Vietnam, but he never once mentioned it. This time, as we hiked down from the North Rim and he winced and grimaced, I could see his pain was excruciating. But he just kept walking, for two more days from the base of the North Rim to the top of the South. We reached our summit at the end of the final day. I was twenty-two and I was bone-weary. I have no idea how he managed it, much less without even a single complaint. We stood together in silence, took in the majesty of the canyon as that gorgeous Arizona sun sank below the cliff line, and then we slept. An unspoken rite of passage finished for both.
My Dad taught me the two qualities that take you farthest in life, especially in the military, are humility and inquisitiveness. He recognized in every person, friend or stranger, dignity equal to his own. He never spurned a request for help. He never treated a person or a service as beneath him.
He was always willing to apologize for his mistakes. He had a deep need to make amends if he had wronged someone. He was a restless man, and his conscience was the most restless part of him. Always present was his desire to be a better man today than he was yesterday.
He could not read enough, inquire enough, experience enough, learn enough. He was never satisfied with the knowledge he possessed. He was always questioning, demanding more information from books, from people, from intimidated witnesses before his committee who had steeled themselves for days to prepare for the experience. But he also asked questions of people to establish a personal connection to them, to let them know he shared their interests and their purposes.
He fought hard, obstinately, exuberantly because he liked to fight, but more importantly, because he believed in what he was fighting for. He fought for America and her great causes – freedom, equal justice, the dignity of all people. He fought the bad guys for the little guys. He fought to make a better world. That’s what he believed an American leader is supposed to do – to fight and sacrifice for causes greater than themselves. He had an ego. He had ambitions. But it was country first. Country first.
Sixteen years ago, I visited the notorious Hanoi Hilton with him. It was quite moving to see in his company the place where he had suffered so much and, he said, fallen in love with his country. But he only ever talked matter-of-factly with me about his experiences there. He had subordinated all personal feeling to his efforts to help Vietnam be a better country, and a friend and ally to his.
Not long after Dad helped restore normal relations between the United States and Vietnam, he received a letter from a person he didn’t know, who had admired his efforts to reconcile the two countries. The Thoughtful correspondent closed his letter by reciting some lines from Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, which he said had been brought to mind by Dad’s courage, by his capacity for forgiveness, and by his determined belief, however dark the hour, that the future could be made better than the present:
“To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night’
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, not falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.”
My father fought and suffered, endured defeats, rose from the ground and fought again to keep faith with his heroes, to safeguard the country he loved and her causes, to be a better man, and to make a better world.
That was your glory, Dad, in triumph and defeat, at dawn and dusk. And we who were privileged to witness it saw it was good, great, joyous, beautiful and free, and we will not forget it.
Good-bye, Old man. Like you, I believe we’ll see each other again. Until then, I’ll keep your faith, and make my life count for something more than myself, so that you’ll be proud of me on that day.