Signals AZ

‘Amazing Grace’: Scenes from Sen. McCain’s Memorial

PHOENIX – Thousands of well-wishers Thursday lined the route of the motorcade carrying John McCain to memorial services at North Phoenix Baptist Church. After the service, the senator’s flag-draped casket was flown to Washington, D.C., for services later this week.

Arizona National Guardsmen carry the casket holding the body of John McCain as his family and members of the public salute the late senator outside the state Capitol. (Photo by Celisse Jones/Cronkite News)

The show of appreciation came a day after 15,000 people, according to McCain family estimates, filed past his casket at the state Capitol.

McCain Abhorred Abuses of Power, Biden Says

At the service, close friends spoke about the man they universally said represented American values and refused to compromise for political gain.

“It wasn’t politics with John, it was the underlying values,” former Vice President Joe Biden said. “He could not stand the abuse of power wherever he saw it, in whatever form, in whatever country.”

Afterward, McCain’s body was driven to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, where he left Arizona for the last time.

With Terminal 3 – renamed the John S. McCain III Terminal by the Phoenix City Council – in the background, McCain’s body was placed aboard a military aircraft while his family looked on.

Fellow Veterans Admire McCain

John McCain

John McCain (Krista Kennell /

Veterans who did not get tickets for McCain’s memorial stood outside North Phoenix Baptist Church during the service.

William Cook worked on McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, which he lost to Barack Obama.

“John was so gracious in defeat,” he said. “Instead of being bitter he vowed to work with the new president to make his country great.”

Cook and veteran Ira Hayes both said they admired McCain’s lifelong dedication to public service.

“Coming out of the service, McCain could have taken a civilian job, but he took the risk of being a fighter pilot and nearly lost his life,” Cook said.

“He is more than an American hero, he is an icon and a legend,” Hayes added.

McCain entered the Naval Academy in 1954, just before U.S. military involvement in Vietnam began. He graduated – fifth from the bottom of his class – after three years of flight school and volunteered for combat duty in Southeast Asia.

On one of his bombing missions, a missile hit McCain’s A-4E Skyhawk jet, and he landed on enemy territory in Hanoi.

North Vietnamese troops captured McCain, and he became a prisoner of war. After nearly six years, McCain was released when the Paris Peace Accords were signed to mark the end of the Vietnam War.

He received a Silver Star for “extreme mental and physical cruelties” and the Purple Heart, among others awards, for his bravery in Vietnam.

Church Services Begin

About 1,000 members of the public mingled with dignitaries and elected officials inside North Phoenix Baptist Church, but all fell silent as a pianist onstage began playing at 9:30 a.m., half an hour before the service was set to begin.

About 30 current and former Congress members sat on the floor-level seats of the spacious church, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

Players and staff from the Arizona Cardinals, Diamondbacks and Coyotes bowed their heads in memory of the senator, an avid sports fan and supporter of the state’s teams.

Brophy Students and Staff Honor McCain

Onlookers and Brophy College Preparatory students and staff watch the McCain motorcade at Central Avenue and Camelback Road. Two of Sen. John McCain’s son’s attended Brophy. (Photo by Celisse Jones/Cronkite News)

Brophy College Preparatory students and staff members gathered at Central Avenue and Camelback Road in Phoenix along McCain’s motorcade route.

“We wanted to teach the students reverence and solemnity and the impact that a community can have on a family’s life,” said Patrick Higgins, Brophy dean of students.

Two of McCain’s sons attended Brophy. The school’s student ensemble will perform the song “Arizona” during McCain’s memorial service.

“They’ve impacted our community, and we hope we can give a little back to them today by our presence here,” Higgins said.

McCain, Even While Ill, Set Projects in Place for A Future Without Him

Sen. John McCain’s casket is loaded into a hearse after lying in state at the Arizona Capitol. The family estimates 15,000 people paid their respects to him on Wednesday. (Photo by Celisse Jones/Cronkite News)

Before the service, Arizona State University President Michael Crow called McCain an exceptional leader who left a legacy of getting things done.

He said memorials are an opportunity to reflect on ways people and leaders can follow in McCain’s example of service and connecting people with different ideologies to a common purpose.

“We’re pledging that we will move forward in that way instead of some of the other ways that are increasingly common,” Crow said. “Argument, argument, argument – that doesn’t really solve anything.”

Shortly after McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, he met with Crow to discuss ideas and projects that would happen after his death, Crow said.

“He was laying down the groundwork for projects and work and initiatives and making things happen,” he said.

“I think the legacy will be that Arizona is a place that new thinkers come from, where new ideas come from for solving a problem,” Crow said. “I think he will become that legacy leader of making things happen in positive and constructive ways.”

Motorcade Leaves for The Airport

Cindy McCain lowers the window to thank onlookers during the motorcade taking her husband’s body to North Phoenix Baptist Church. (Photo by Celisse Jones/Cronkite News)

Cindy McCain left the state Capitol with the motorcade carrying her husband’s casket to memorial services at North Phoenix Baptist Church.

After the service, the motorcade departed for Sky Harbor airport, where McCain was loaded on a military aircraft and flown to Washington. His body will lie in state Friday at the U.S. Capitol.

Memorial Service Details

State and national political leaders, professional athletes and family members spoke at the services, including Grant Woods, McCain’s first congressional chief of staff, longtime friend and Latino activist Tommy Espinoza, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and former Vice President Joe Biden. Two of McCain’s seven children, Bridget and Andrew, read from the Bible.

One thousand seats were made available to the public.

The family was greeted at the church by senior Pastor Noe Garcia.

About 9:55 a.m., the Armed Forces Body Bearer Team carried McCain’s casket into the Church, followed by ceremonial pallbearers and the family.


Reporters Stephanie Morse, Gabriella Bachara, Jimmie Jackson, Chris McCrory and Christopher Roth contributed to this article.

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