WASHINGTON — America’s political and military leaders remembered John McCain at a Capitol ceremony Friday as a lifelong public servant whose time in the Navy, time in Congress and time in the national spotlight all offered inspiration to country.
“Half a world away, wearing our nation’s uniform, John McCain stood up for every value that this Capitol building represents,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “Then he brought that same patriotism inside his walls to advocate for our service members, our veterans, and our moral leadership in the world.”
“So it is only right that today, near the end of his long journey, that John lies here in this great hall under this mighty dome, like other American heroes before him.”
McCain died on Aug. 25 after a year-long battle with brain cancer. The Navy Academy graduate was arguably the most well-known veteran in the country today, both for his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and for decades as a congressman and senator from the state of Arizona.
He is the 31st person to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, an honor typically associated with American presidents. McCain twice unsuccessfully ran for the presidency, but his colleagues noted those defeats never shook his resolve to keep serving the country.
“The highest office alluded him, but he attained what is far more enduring: the abiding affection of his fellow citizens, and an example for future generations,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.
“This is one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced.”
McCain was the son and grandson of four-star admirals who frequently joked that he was one of the worst students to ever graduate from the Naval Academy. He was shot down over Vietnam during the height of the war and spent more than five years in captivity, enduring torture that left lingering medical problems for the rest of his life.
He returned home and entered politics, where he became one of the Republican Party’s most influential defense and foreign policy voices in recent decades. He was a frequent foil to multiple presidents, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama (both of whom defeated him in their campaign bids) and Donald Trump.
The Capitol Hill ceremony — which included McCain’s family, members of the Pentagon leadership, dozens of lawmakers and even more congressional staffers — was part of a weeklong celebration of McCain’s life, including similar high-profile events in his adopted home state of Arizona.
Funeral services will be held Saturday before McCain is buried on Sunday at his alma mater. Vice President Mike Pence said the locations of those ceremonies are another reminder of McCain’s remarkable life.
“ Today, he lies in the place where he served to the last, the Congress of the United States,” he said. “Soon, he will to rest on the grounds where he served first, the United States Naval Academy. The eyes of the American people will be upon him as he goes.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.