Mourners remember John McCain at Arizona church service
Former vice president Joe Biden told the service he thought of John McCain as a brother.
An estimated 3,500 mourners crowded into an Arizona church on Thursday to remember Senator John McCain, after a motorcade bearing his body made its way past people waving flags and campaign-style signs.
Family members watched in silence as uniformed military members removed the Republican senator’s flag-draped coffin from a hearse and carried it into the North Phoenix Baptist church for the commemoration
Twenty-four sitting US senators, four former senators and other leaders from Arizona were expected at the service for the maverick politician, former prisoner of war and two-time presidential candidate.
Former vice president Joe Biden told the service he thought of John McCain as a brother, with “a lot of family fights”.
Biden said the two men got to know each other while making overseas trips together.
They would talk about family, politics and international relations. Biden said they were both “cock-eyed optimists”, and they understood it was all about trust and that he would trust John with his life.
As the 11-vehicle motorcade with a 17-motorcycle police escort made its way along the eight-mile route, people held signs that read simply “McCain”, and cars on the other side of the road stopped or slowed to a crawl in apparent tribute.
A few firefighters saluted from atop a fire engine parked on an overpass as the motorcade passed underneath.
One man shouted: “We love you!”
McCain died last Saturday of brain cancer aged 81.
The crowd in the church stood silently as the coffin was placed before a set of floral arrangements and McCain’s family entered behind.
On Wednesday, a private service was held at the Capitol for family and friends.
Cindy McCain pressed her face against her husband’s coffin, and daughter Meghan McCain erupted in sobs.
McCain’s sons Doug, Jack and Jimmy, daughter Sidney and daughter-in-law Renee shook hands with some of the estimated 15,000 people who filed past the senator’s coffin to pay their final respects.
About 1,000 seats for Thursday’s church service were made available to members of the public.
Michael Fellars was among those awaiting the motorcade outside the church.
“He was about the only politician that I have ever known who cared for the people in his country, and he tried his level best to make it a better place in which to live,” Fellars said.
McCain’s daughter Bridget delivered a scripture reading, and his longtime chief of staff Grant Woods, a former Arizona attorney general, offered a eulogy in which he talked about McCain’s “terribly bad driving” and his wicked sense of humour.
The much smaller service at the Capitol was filled with affecting moments and demonstrations of deep respect for the statesman and Navy pilot who was held prisoner by the North Vietnamese after being shot down over Hanoi.
The Capitol was then opened to the public in the afternoon, allowing visitors to walk past the closed coffin after waiting in line outside in temperatures that reached 40C.
After Thursday’s church service, a military aircraft was scheduled to take McCain’s body back east for a lying-in-state at the US Capitol on Friday, a service at the Washington National Cathedral on Saturday, and burial at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.