By Sen. John Thune
Until John McCain’s passing, I had the distinct honor of serving alongside him for the entirety of my Senate career. And while John loved the Senate and a good, fiery debate (I know firsthand, having been on the receiving end of a few of them myself), he loved nothing more than his friends, family, and the country for which he fought and served for the better part of his life.
There aren’t enough words to truly describe John and what he meant to everyone who knew him – even those who didn’t, but who, having known John’s story, always felt like they did. He was smart, thoughtful, witty, courageous, and he was always humble enough to admit when he was wrong or had made a mistake. He was true to himself, and he embodied the American spirit.
Highlighting that embodiment, in his farewell letter to the nation, John wrote, “We believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit, we never surrender, we never hide from history. We make history.” If there was ever a motto for John’s life and love of country, those three sentences were it.
To John’s family, he was a beloved son, husband, father, and grandfather. To the nation, he was a soldier, a public servant, and a true patriot. To his colleagues in Congress, myself included, he was a dear friend. At the end of the day, to know John was to know America.
Shortly after I got to the Senate, I read his book, “Faith of My Fathers.” It didn’t take long before I realized that some of the dates and places he described started to sound familiar. After some research, we discovered that it was Admiral John McCain – Sen. McCain’s grandfather – who awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross to my father Harold. To say it’s a small world would be an understatement.
John knew service and sacrifice better than most, which is what bonded him to service members young and old. I shared with him the story about his grandfather and my dad, and it created a special friendship between us. He’d always tell me, “John, we’ve got to call your dad,” which is exactly what we eventually did. A phone call I’ll never forget.
I traveled to Arizona to attend John’s funeral service and pay my respects to a man who was larger than life. I found it altogether fitting that as John’s casket left the church, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” seemingly a ballad of John’s life, played in the background: “I’ve lived a life that’s full. I’ve traveled each and every highway. But more, much more than this, I did it my way.”
When discussing how he would like to be remembered, John humbly said, “I want, when I leave, that the ceremony is at the Naval Academy, and we just have a couple of people that stand up and say, ‘This guy, he served his country.’” I can think of few finer epitaphs than that to honor a man like John McCain.