Private service for McCain before burial at Naval Academy

Courtesy Getty Images

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — 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, was escorting his remains to Annapolis.

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.”

Outside the gate where the procession was expected to enter the academy, several hundred people gathered on a hot and muggy summer day. Standing along the street and sitting in folding chairs, they carried American flags and held signs that said, “Senator John McCain Thanks For Serving! Godspeed” and “Rest In Peace Maverick.”

“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.”

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