Thursday, September 20, 2018

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Americans give a final salute to John McCain

Washington says goodbye: ‘This is one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced,’ Paul Ryan says

  • APTOPIX-McCain-6

    Members of the public walk past the flag-draped casket bearing the remains of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who worked in Congress for over four decades, Friday in the U.S. Capitol rotunda in Washington. McCain was a six-term senator, a Republican nominee for president, and a Navy pilot who served in Vietnam, where he endured five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war undergoing brutal torture. He died Aug. 25 from brain cancer at age 81.

    Associated Press photos

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    Cindy McCain leans over her husband’s flag-draped casket Friday during the Capitol farewell ceremony.

    Associated Press

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    The flag-draped casket of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., lies in state at the U.S. Capitol, Friday, August 31, 2018 in Washington. Seated third from left is Cindy McCain and Vice President Mike Pence to her right. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool photo via AP)

    Kevin Dietch

  • McCain-3-5

    The flag-draped casket of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is carried up the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Washington. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

    John McDonnell

  • McCain-4-7

    Derek Anderson of Arlington, Va., center, pays his respects, with other members of the public, at the flag-draped casket of John McCain of Arizona, who lived and worked in Congress over four decades, in the U.S. Capitol rotunda in Washington, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. McCain was a six-term senator from Arizona, a former Republican nominee for president, and a Navy pilot who served in Vietnam where he endured five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war. He died Aug. 25 from brain cancer at age 81. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    J. Scott Applewhite

  • McCain-5-6

    The flag-draped casket of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is carried up the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Washington as Cindy McCain, top right, joined by her sons Jack McCain, and Jimmy McCain, right, watch. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool Photo via AP)

    JIM LO SCALZO

  • APTOPIX-McCain-6-1

    Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right, talks with Vice President Mike Pence, left, after he speaks at a ceremony for John McCain as he lies in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

    Associated Press

  • APTOPIX-McCain-7

    The flag-draped casket bearing the remains of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who lived and worked in Congress over four decades, is carried into the U.S. Capitol rotunda, followed by his widow, Cindy McCain, upper right, for a farewell ceremony and public visitation, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    J. Scott Applewhite

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    The flag-draped casket of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., lies in state on the Lincoln Catafalque in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Washington. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool Photo via AP)

    Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders saluted John McCain Friday as a model of service in war and peace, “one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced,” in a memorial ceremony at the heart of the political battlefield where he fought for more than three decades.

Then thousands of fellow Americans, who had lined up outside the U.S. Capitol in stifling heat, began filing past in the majestic rotunda to say goodbye as he lay in state.

McCain, the Arizona senator who died Aug. 25 at 81, was remembered as a man who inspired other leaders even as he vexed them with a rebellious streak and impish humor. Absent from the event was Donald Trump, invited to stay away by the family of the senator, who had deep disagreements with the president.

McCain’s service in Vietnam, and his refusal to be released early as a prisoner of war, made the setting of Friday’s service all the more fitting, some said.

“Half a world away, wearing our nation’s uniform, John McCain stood up for every value that this Capitol Building represents,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the crowd of McCain’s family, friends and aides. “Then, he brought that same patriotism inside its 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, John lies here.”

Friday’s ceremony and public viewing was the midpoint of McCain’s five-day cross-country funeral procession from Arizona, where he and wife Cindy raised their family, through the Capitol where he worked for more than 35 years, to the U.S. Naval Academy cemetery in Annapolis, Md. — “back where it began,” as he wrote in his recent memoir, “The Restless Wave.” Today, the procession will pause by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the way to a formal funeral service at Washington National Cathedral.

In Trump’s absence, Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, White House chief of staff John Kelly and other officials represented the administration. Pence at one point said that Trump, who mocked McCain for being captured, “respected his service to the country.”

The stop at the Capitol was designed to spotlight McCain’s outsized role in an institution bursting with big, willful personalities. Just to the north of the rotunda in the semi-darkened Senate, McCain’s desk remained draped in black and topped with a vase of white roses.

After the ceremony, Cindy McCain quietly sat behind her husband’s desk, escorted by his seatmate and close friend, Sen. Lindsey Graham. Graham plucked two of the roses from the vase and gave them to her during that private moment, said two people close to McCain and his family.

Of those who spoke at Friday’s ceremony, fellow Republican McConnell had perhaps the fullest sense of the McCain experience. The two had served in the Senate together since McCain’s 1986 election.

“Depending on the issue, you knew John would either be your staunchest ally or your most stubborn opponent,” McConnell recalled. “At any moment, he might be preparing an eloquent reflection on human liberty — or a devastating joke, served up with his signature cackle and that John McCain glint in his eye.”

But just about anyone who worked in the Capitol over the past 35 years could attest to McCain’s iron will and what House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin called his “distinct brand of candor.”

“With John, it was never feigned disagreement. The man didn’t feign anything,” Ryan said. “He just relished the fight.”

“This,” Ryan added of McCain, “is one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced.”

Pence, himself a former senator, recalled traveling through Iraq with McCain and falling asleep during a dinner with officials. McCain, nearly 23 years older, told him, “’Mike, we’ve got a few more meetings tonight. But why don’t you turn in. You look like you could use some rest.” Members of McCain’s family, seated nearby, smiled.

Cindy McCain was the first to pay respects at her husband’s casket. She bowed over it and appeared to pray. The last of the family to file past was his mother, 106-year-old Roberta McCain. Wheeled up to her son’s flag-draped casket, she crossed herself and was wheeled out.

Others from McCain’s long career paused. Some wept. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reached out with both hands to touch the flag. Former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and actor Warren Beatty also stopped.

As the service ended, thousands of people were guided into snaking lines along First Street on the border of the Capitol complex to pay respects to McCain.

Among them were more than 100 family members of Vietnamese political prisoners who traveled to Washington to honor McCain for his advocacy for Vietnamese refugees.

Khuc Minh Tho, president of the Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association, said that with McCain’s help, almost 800,000 prisoners and their families who were in Vietnam are now in the U.S.

“We respect him and want to wish that he rests in peace,” she said.

Sibyl Kalish, 59, traveled with her 89-year-old mother, Beverly, from New York and waited in the blistering heat to file past McCain’s coffin. They are from a liberal, military family, Kalish said.

“I respect him for what he gave for this country. He tried his best. I’d like to see more people like him,” Beverly Kalish said.


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