Published 8:43 p.m. UTC Sep 2, 2018
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland – Sen. John McCain was laid to rest at the U.S. Naval Academy on Sunday, his body returning to the bucolic campus on the edge of the Severn River that launched his career of service to the country six decades ago.
The small, private ceremony under the landmark copper dome of the academy’s chapel capped several days of services for the Arizona Republican, who was eulogized by two former presidents over the weekend and who drew much of official Washington to his side on Friday as he lay in state in the U.S. Capitol.
A hearse carrying McCain’s casket rolled slowly through a crowd of several hundred people outside the academy Sunday afternoon. Some held elaborate signs with photos of McCain. One proclaimed the senator was “all Trump is not.” Another, written with a marker on yellow construction paper, said only “thank you.”
Ann Hewitt, an 80-year-old Annapolis woman, stood silently with a U.S. flag in one hand and the arm of a friend in the other as the motorcade passed, McCain's flag-draped casket visible through the window of the hearse. Like McCain, Hewitt’s husband flew missions in Vietnam.
McCain's motorcade cut through a silent crowd, which poured into the street behind him. Only after the last vehicle in the procession passed the gate of the academy did the crowd erupt into applause and, for some, tears.
“I’m glad I was here,” Hewitt said in almost a whisper. “I just couldn’t not be here.”
McCain's burial, closed to reporters and the public, was the final stop in a days-long wave of ceremonies honoring the former Naval aviator, Vietnam POW, senator and Republican presidential nominee. The memorials provided a rare opportunity for the country to reflect on the civility McCain espoused during his three decades in the Senate.
"John McCain, no matter what position he took, always figured out a way to build a bridge," Ohio Gov. John Kasich said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"There'll never be another John McCain," he said.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry, also appearing on CBS, said McCain was a “better angel of the American value system” who would reach across the aisle.
Surrounded by his family, friends and fellow members of the Naval Academy Class of 1958, McCain was buried alongside Charles "Chuck" Larson, a lifelong friend who also flew missions over Vietnam and rose to the pinnacle of political power in Washington as a naval aide to President Richard Nixon.
The burial was private, and the academy suspended tours and access to members of the public who did not have military identification. A military jet flew low and fast over Annapolis about two hours after the services were scheduled to begin.
McCain was a regular fixture at the academy, telling a group of midshipmen last year that he learned the “meaning and responsibilities of honor” at the elite school, despite a rebellious reputation — and a flood of demerits — that helped to cultivate his later standing as a “maverick.”
Months after losing the 2008 presidential election to President Barack Obama, McCain was in the stands as the new president delivered the commencement address to the class of 2009, which included McCain’s 32-year-old son, John "Jack" Sidney McCain IV.
When McCain opened his maiden campaign office in Maryland in 2008 he did so in Annapolis.
Wearing his father's U.S. Navy wings, Jack McCain was to deliver a eulogy Sunday at the ceremony. McCain's son returned from an overseas deployment to say goodbye to his father and participate in a weeklong series of McCain memorial events.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and one of Senator McCain's closest friends, also was set to speak at the service at the Academy chapel. Unlike memorial services in Phoenix and Washington, attendance was largely restricted to McCain's family and friends.
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Reaction to the senator’s death in Annapolis was noticeable in subtle ways. At Chick & Ruth’s Delly, a landmark sandwich spot on Main Street, managers set out a newspaper clipping of the senator from when he campaigned there years earlier.
"He was a staple of the Naval Academy," said manager Alex Padussis.
“He was an American hero."
Local residents began lining the route of McCain’s motorcade hours before the services began Sunday, with some carrying flags in the steamy summer afternoon. A pair of fire engines hoisted a massive U.S. flag over the six-lane highway connecting Washington to Annapolis so that it would be visible by those accompanying McCain’s body.
President Donald Trump, who had a rocky relationship with McCain in his final years and was not invited to Saturday's National Cathedral funeral services, spent a third day largely sidestepping the memorials. He traveled to the Trump National Golf Club on Sunday and posted a tweet praising golfer Tiger Woods for showing "great class" for not criticizing him.
Obama called the opportunity to remember him at the Saturday service a "precious and singular honor." Former President George W. Bush, who prevailed against McCain in a campaign for the presidential nomination, said that McCain exuded a sense of leadership.
It was McCain's daughter Meghan who addressed Trump most directly. She took a jab at the president and his campaign motto without repeating it.
“The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again, because America was always great,” she said.
Many who lined the streets outside the academy said they felt they had a personal connection to the senator, even if they had never met him. Others endured the blistering heat for a man they simply felt compelled honor. Many uttered a single word to explain why they had come out to see his motorcade pass by: "Respect."
Melanie Wofford, a 53-year-old woman from Aiken, South Carolina, was diagnosed seven years ago with a similar form of brain cancer that struck McCain last year. She and her husband drove to Washington to pay their respects at the Capitol on Friday and found themselves outside the academy a few days later.
Wofford said she was inspired by how little McCain’s cancer came up at his services.
“He lived a life so full and so big that brain cancer was a just a footnote at the end,” Wofford said, who choked back tears as the motorcade rolled by.
“I want to live a life as he did – so committed and so passionate – so that, in the end, the brain tumor is just a footnote.”
Charles James Sr., an Army veteran, agreed.
“He wasn’t a perfect man, but he was a great man,” said James, sitting in a folding chair holding a sign with the words “courage,” “honor” and “integrity” next to a picture of McCain.
James declined to weigh directly into politics or answer a question on Trump, saying he didn’t want to take anything away from McCain’s moment.
“It’s not the way that Senator McCain would want it to be,” James said. “I just pray that the messages that were sent at his funeral will resonate through the country.”
Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook.