PHOENIX – In ancient Sparta, fallen warriors were carried home on their shields. On Wednesday, an American flag draped the casket of John McCain – sailor and senator, husband and father – as it was placed on the shield of his beloved Arizona.
His widow and other family members, friends and Arizona leaders watched silently as members of the Arizona National Guard carried the casket into the Capitol rotunda, stopping on a mosaic of the Arizona state seal: a shield featuring the motto Ditat Deus (“God enriches” in Latin) flanked by images honoring mining, ranching, farming, scenery and Roosevelt Dam – nods to the five Cs of the state McCain called home for nearly four decades.
Family members were the first to pay their respects. Cindy McCain, the senator’s wife, touched his casket before laying her cheek against the flag. Their seven children walked through after her, some stoic, some emotional. McCain’s daughter Meghan, a TV personality who often posted photos of her father and updates about his health, sobbed as she touched the casket.
Gov. Doug Ducey reminded those gathered at the private ceremony that McCain’s long relationship with public service began thousands of miles away, in North Vietnam, in a lingering image of grimace and stoicism as a wounded prisoner of war in 1967-73.
“Nobody expected John McCain to make it through the night, but dying was not in his plan,” the governor said.
McCain, a former Navy pilot who arrived in Arizona in 1981, was elected to Congress and later the Senate, in the process becoming an Arizona icon, Ducey said. And, like another Arizona wonder, he said, most thought McCain would endure.
“Imagining Arizona without John McCain is like picturing Arizona without the Grand Canyon,” he said. “It’s just not natural.”
Former Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Gilbert, a friend, placed a wreath of white roses in front of the casket, then bowed his head.
In the final moments of the service, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, McCain’s Republican colleague and friend, gave the benediction. He called on God to provide peace to those who knew the senator.
“Let us go now from this place in peace.”
Here are some stories from the people who made the effort to pay their respects to the six-term senator and former GOP presidential nominee.
Lines form under triple-digit temperatures
An estimated 1,500 people waited in line, with lines stretching from the Capitol to the intersection of 16th Avenue and Jefferson Street.
Mourners endured a sun-drenched sky, with high temperatures expected to reach 105 degrees.
At least one person has experienced heat related distress. The woman was carried into the Arizona Senate after falling over. A Department of Public Safety trooper at the scene confirmed she would be OK, describing her as a “heat casualty.”
While the throng wait, a screen set up at the intersection of 17th Avenue and Jefferson Street showed a live feed of the casket as Arizona residents paid their respects.
McCain move leads to military commander
Cmdr. Andrew Williamson has served in the Coast Guard for 23 years, in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Northwest. It’s a career he might not have had without McCain.
“I got a nomination for the Naval Academy from him,” Williamson said. “My senior year of high school, I had dinner with him and his wife with my mother and sister at Luke Air Force Base. I talked to him and Cindy (McCain) for a while. Just two great individuals.”
Meeting with McCain made a great impact on Williamson.
“Just one of the best days of my life, actually, just because of his legacy and what he’s done in the past, POW, MIA, the things he’s been through and his perseverance is a model for everybody.”
‘Not an Arab’
Earl McElroy said he will always remember the integrity of McCain’s response to a woman at a town hall who called McCain’s presidential opponent, Barack Obama, an Arab.
“He could have ignored it like Ted Cruz and the rest of them, but he said Obama was a decent man” McElroy said.
He wants other politicians to show that sense of honor.
“I wish other elected officials would, too, but they’re just so afraid,” McElroy said.
Missing work to pay her respects
Chasity Pullin, who was born and raised in Phoenix, took time off from work to honor the six-term senator and former presidential candidate.
“Going from being a POW and then becoming our state’s senator, it really shows that anything is possible,” she said.
Pullin said she admired how McCain always tried to run a clean campaign.
“He showed that when electing our officials, it should be about the person,” she said. “He didn’t talk bad about others and try to get voters to buy into negativity.”
Pullin hopes others will follow his example by not only speaking up about what they believe in, but also acting to support these beliefs.
“We need to do something to actually show we care.”
McCain gets street lights turned on for New York transplant
Joe Meo, 66, of Mesa, remembers an experience he and his wife, Kathy, had with McCain while waiting for a shuttle to the state fairgrounds.
– Video by Carly Henry
Reaching across the aisle
Susan Moore, 69, drove from Tucson to Phoenix to see McCain’s casket lie in state.
“I watched John McCain my whole life,” Moore said. “I remember watching the Vietnam War unfold on TV and then watching his whole political career. “
Moore said she admired how McCain always tried to do the right thing, even when that meant going against the Republican Party.
“He reached across the aisle and spoke up for what he believed in,” she said. “He has an intuitive way of knowing what was right.”
She wants other politicians to follow in his example.
“Politicians should look at what he did,” Moore said. “He didn’t side with what he didn’t believe in.”
She wrote a letter she hopes to place near his casket. She considers McCain her hero.
“I have my truth, you have your truth, but John McCain spoke the truth,” Moore said.
First in line
Linda Gordon of Phoenix was the first person in line to pay her respects, saying the senator “was worth it.”
– Video by Samie Gebers
Sen. Jeff Flake says farewell to a colleague
Some people lined up as early as 7 a.m.; the doors opened early, at 1 p.m.
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a friend and colleague of John McCain’s, said today is a day of mourning for the entire state but also a day of celebration for a life well lived.
Flying the flag
Patriot Guard Riders conducted a flag salute Monday morning at the Arizona State Capital in anticipation of John McCain’s motorcade.
The salute included prayer and playing the national anthem before the group lined 17th Avenue with flags.
“It’s about honor and respect,” said group member Robi Campbell. “It’s for us to be able to show that a whole nation cares that someone has signed on the dotted line to protect our freedoms and the way of life we know today.”
The salute was not a part of the official procession. The group was there at the request of McCain’s family.
“We’re here for anyone that has served our nation,” Campbell said
McCain’s sense of humor
Veterans groups gathered at the state capital Wednesday morning to honor Sen. John McCain.
“I’m here to pay tribute to a great man,” said Chuck Byers, chief service officer for Vietnam Veterans in Phoenix. “This is a great loss to Arizona and to the country.”
Byers knew McCain personally and worked closely with him on veterans issues.
“He had a great sense of humor and would give people nicknames,” Byers said. “Most people don’t know that about him. He was really genuine.”
Others veterans said they also felt a close connection to McCain.
“It’s a great honor to stand by our brother,” said David Yriguyen, captain of the Color Guard for the Ira Hayes Detachment. “He really stood by veterans.”
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