Six-term Senator from Arizona John McCain died yesterday. He was 81 years old. McCain had been battling gioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, for more than a year. On Friday his family announced he would discontinue treatment because the “progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age” had delivered “their verdict,” they said.
In a statement, McCain’s office wrote the senator passed away at 4:28 p.m. at his home in Sedona, Arizona, on Saturday. He was accompanied by his wife, Cindy, and their family. “At his death, he had served the United States of America faithfully for sixty years,” the statement read.
McCain had been a prominent member of the American political landscape for decades. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982 and the Senate in 1986. He became a national hero after spending five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam in the late 60s and early 70s.
McCain, the son and grandson of four-star Navy admirals, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958. He would be deployed as a navy pilot flying attack missions over enemy territory during the Vietnam War.
“I was raised in a military family. I was raised in the concept and belief that duty, honor, country is the lodestar for the behavior that we have to exhibit every single day,” he said earlier this year.
In October 1967, McCain’s jet was shot down over North Vietnam by a barrage of surface-to-air missiles. McCain managed to eject from the plane but broke both arms and his right leg in doing so.
When his father was appointed commander of U.S. Pacific forces, the North Vietnamese offered to release him early from captivity. McCain refused, choosing instead to remain with his fellow soldiers, denying the North Vietnamese a public relations victory.
His captors retaliated by beating him repeatedly, re-breaking his arm and his ribs.
His courage and loyalty earned him a Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry. The traits would become the hallmark of his political career, one in which he repeatedly put country over his own interests, as well as his party’s.
In 2000, McCain ran for President against fellow Republican George W. Bush. He portrayed himself as a Republican firebrand and maverick, unafraid to buck his party’s orthodoxy to remain true to his principles.
He dubbed his bus tour the “Straight Talk Express.” He held extended Q and A sessions with journalists. The moves stood in stark contrast to the other campaigns of the day which were increasingly scripted. It earned him press coverage that was so positive that he began to call the national media “my base.”
The campaign created long-lasting tensions between McCain and Bush however when McCain came to suspect Bush campaign operatives of orchestrating a smear campaign about one of McCain’s family members, an adopted daughter who is from Bangladesh.
McCain again ran for president in 2008 but a young upstart senator from Illinois named Barack Obama would foil McCain’s designs on the White House.
The campaign suffered a series of major setbacks, including near insolvency. Throughout it all McCain maintained his trademark sense of humor. “In the words of Chairman Mao, it’s always darkest before it gets pitch black,” he quipped.
In recent months McCain had become an outspoken critic of Donald Trump pillorying his recent summit with Vladimir Putin, for example.
“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” McCain said of President Trump’s press availability at the time. “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.”
The relationship between the two men had been frayed since Donald Trump appeared to insult McCain’s service during Vietnam. “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said in 2015.
The feud reached a high-water mark last summer when McCain, in dramatic fashion, cast the deciding vote on the Senate floor killing a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Mr. Trump had spent months working with Capitol Hill Republicans on the law.
Mr. McCain’s body will lie in state at the Arizona State Capital on Wednesday and then at the U.S. Capital on Friday. Memorial services will be held in both Arizona and Washington D.C. this week. President’s George W. Bush and Barack Obama have been asked to eulogize Senator McCain at the ceremony at the National Cathedral, which is scheduled to take place on Saturday.
Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr