ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — John McCain’s final journey from his Arizona ranch is ending on a grassy hill at the U.S. Naval Academy within view of the Severn River and earshot of midshipmen present and future, and alongside a lifelong friend.
A private memorial service at the academy’s chapel followed by a procession to the burial site was to mark the farewell Sunday to a man who lived a very public life. Invited along with family and friends were members of McCain’s Class of 1958, military leaders and Brigade of Midshipmen.
One scheduled speaker at the service, Sen. Lindsey Graham, said he would tell the audience that “nobody loved a soldier more than John McCain, that I bear witness to his commitment to have their back, travel where they go, never let them be forgotten. The public may be tired of this war called the war on terrorism, but John McCain never was. And he had their back and he gave them what they need to win a fight we can’t afford to lose.”
Also expected to pay tribute to McCain, the former Arizona senator, GOP presidential nominee and prisoner of war who died Aug. 25 from brain cancer at age 81, were David Petraeus, a retired general and former CIA director, and McCain’s son Jack.
The private ceremony was as carefully planned as the rest of the events that have stretched from Arizona to Washington.
On Saturday, speeches by his daughter Meghan and two former presidents — Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama — remembered McCain as a patriot who could bridge painful rivalries. But even as their remarks made clear their admiration for him, they represented a repudiation of President Donald Trump’s brand of tough-talking, divisive politics.
McCain’s family, including his 106-year-old mother, Roberta, had planned to escort his remains to Annapolis. As the hearse carrying McCain passed through a gate and into the academy, there was a loud applause from the several hundred people lining the street outside on the hot and muggy summer day. Many held their hands over their hearts and waved American flags and applauded loudly; some shouted “God bless you.”
Some in the crowd held signs that said, “Senator John McCain Thanks For Serving! Godspeed” and “Rest In Peace Maverick.”
For his final resting place, McCain picked the historic site overlooking the Severn River, not Arlington National Cemetery, where his father and grandfather, both admirals, are buried.
The late Chuck Larson, an admiral himself and ally throughout McCain’s life, had reserved four plots at the cemetery — two for McCain and himself, and two for their wives, now widows. Larson died in 2014, and McCain wrote in his recent memoir that he wanted to be buried next to his friend, “near where it began.”
Among the pallbearers on a list provided by McCain’s office were Frank Gamboa, his academy roommate; Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; and two men who were POWs with McCain in Vietnam, John Fer and Everett Alvarez Jr.
“There’s a lesson to be learned this week about John McCain,” said Graham, R-S.C.
“Number one, Americans appreciate military service. … If you work hard and do your homework and know what you’re talking about, people will listen to you. That if you pick big causes bigger than yourself, you’ll be remembered,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
“He tried to drain the swamp before it was cool, that you can fight hard and still be respected. If you forgive, people appreciate it, and if you admit to mistakes, you look good as a stronger man. That’s the formula, John McCain. This was a civics lesson for anybody who wanted to listen. Why do we remember this man? Because of the way he conducted his public life.”