U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today paid tribute to his late colleague, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), on the Senate floor.
Thune’s remarks (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, in the wake of Senator John McCain’s death, I was particularly moved by the announcement that, in accordance with his wishes, he will be buried in the cemetery at the U.S. Naval Academy.
“It is a fitting resting place for someone who belonged in a special way to the United States Navy.
“And it is characteristic of him that in death he wished to rest with his comrades in arms.
“Mr. President, it was during his service in the Navy that Lieutenant Commander John McCain’s plane was shot down over North Vietnam.
“He ejected, breaking several bones in the process, and was taken into captivity.
“During World War II, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, describing the actions of the Marines in the battle of Iwo Jima, noted that ‘Uncommon valor was a common virtue.’
“The same can be said about the American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines in the prison camps of North Vietnam.
“John McCain joined their number in October of 1967.
“During the years of his confinement, he was regularly beaten and tortured.
“He survived thanks in part to the friendship of his fellow prisoners of war.
“In 1968, his captors offered the malnourished and ill McCain the chance to be returned home early, ahead of prisoners who were next in line.
“John McCain said no.
“He spent another almost five years in captivity, before being released on March 14, 1973.
“It scarcely needs to be said that he remained a thorn in his captors’ side the entire time.
“Mr. President, living in perhaps the most privileged country in the world, it’s hard for most of us to imagine going without the internet for a few months, let alone something more fundamental like electricity or indoor plumbing.
“The courage and character and sheer determination required to undergo regular torture, malnourishment, and deplorable living conditions is almost impossible to fathom.
“And yet hundreds of U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, John McCain among them, endured these torments and persevered.
“And amazingly, it was in the prison camps of North Vietnam that John McCain discovered the fierce love of country that would animate the rest of his life.
“Years later, he noted, ‘I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s. I loved it for its decency, for its faith in the wisdom, justice, and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again; I wasn’t my own man anymore; I was my country’s.’
“John McCain was his country’s man, Mr. President.
“Throughout a congressional career that spanned 35 years, he served her faithfully.
“He inspired those who served with him, on both sides of the aisle.
“And he always called on all of us to live up to all that is best and greatest about the United States of America.
“He was a fierce crusader for the causes close to his heart, from supporting our nation’s veterans, to equipping our military with the tools it needs, to advancing liberty around the world.
“And he was also a wonderful colleague and friend.
“Shortly after I got to the Senate I read his book, Faith of My Fathers.
“And as I’m reading, I start to think that some of the dates and places sound pretty familiar.
“So I did a little research, and ended up discovering that the Distinguished Flying Cross my father Harold Thune received had been awarded to him by none other than Admiral John McCain – our John McCain’s grandfather.
“I shared this with John, and every time I’d see him he’d say, “We’ve got to call your dad.”
“And that’s exactly what we did one day.
“And I cherish that special connection with a family that has meant so much to our country and to freedom.
“Mr. President, it was an honor to serve with John McCain.
“I will miss his sense of humor and the passion he brought to every battle.
“I admired him greatly.
“He reminded me and all of us every day that life is not about advancing ourselves but about serving a greater cause.
“And that, paradoxically, it is in service that we find freedom.
“In his farewell message to his countrymen, John said, ‘To be connected to America’s causes – liberty, equal justice, respect for the dignity of all people – brings happiness more sublime than life’s fleeting pleasures. Our identities and sense of worth are not circumscribed but enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.’
“Mr. President, already the new class of midshipmen has overrun the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy.
“In the days and years and decades to come, midshipmen will walk past John McCain’s grave and the graves of other Marines and sailors who have served our country.
“The graves will fade into the background of everyday life, but they will still whisper always of the courage and sacrifice of those who have gone before.
“And later, at the time of their testing, some of those midshipmen may remember the graves of those heroes and resolve to be like them.
“To be like John McCain.
“Mr. President, when discussing how he would like to be remembered, John McCain 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.’
“‘This guy, he served his country.’
“Mr. President, I think he can be assured that there will be more than a few people saying that on Sunday.“There can be few finer epitaphs.”