Former presidents highlight Sen. McCain's friendship during National Cathedral memorial service

Kaylah Jackson
September 01, 2018 - 10:18 am

© Jack Gruber-USA TODAY


Hundreds of invited guests gathered at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., for the final memorial service honoring the life of Sen. John McCain, Saturday.

Close friends, family, and distinguished political leaders filled the pews of the cathedral as well as McCain's 1958 graduating class of the U.S. Naval Academy and current midshipmen.

At the request of Sen. McCain, both former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama offered remarks that in spite of their political or personal differences, highlighted their closeness and friendship with the late Arizona senator.

Following the death of Sen. McCain, many recalled the time he corrected a woman during the 2008 campaign trail who referred to former President Barack Obama as an "Arab," an act though meaningful to many, was unsurprising to the former president.

"I was grateful but I wasn't surprised... I never saw John treat anyone differently because of their race, their religion, or their gender," said Obama. In a similar vein to McCain's daughter Meghan, who used a quote from the senator's favorite book during her opening remarks, Obama also highlighted a quote from Ernest Hemingway's, "For Whom The Bell Tolls"  in his speech.

"Today is only one day in the all the days that will ever be but what will happen in all the other days that will ever come can depend on what you do today," said Obama. "Each moment, each day, each choice is a test,  John McCain passed that test, again, and again and again and that's why John spoke with virtues of service and duty, they weren't hollow, they weren't just words to him, it was a truth he had lived and for which he was prepared to die for."

Former President Bush also shared memories of Sen. McCain during his own campaign trail, specifically during a visit in the waiting room before his last debate with then-Sen. John Kerry.

"I felt a presence, opened my eyes and six inches from my face was McCain who yelled 'relax, relax,' said Bush." Both former presidents highlighted McCain's courage, respect, and immovable values. Former President Bush also recalled how their "rivalry melted away" during the time of his friendship with McCain.

"He was honest, no matter whom it offended, presidents were not spared," said Bush. "He was honorable, always recognizing that his opponents were still patriots and human beings. He loved freedom with the passion of a man who knew its absence...Wherever John passed throughout the world, people immediately knew there was a leader in their midst."

Other political leaders such as Joe Liberman, a close friend of McCain's also offered remarks recalling times the "three amigos," Lieberman, McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham were serving as political leaders on Capitol Hill.

While President Trump was not in attendance, his daughter and son-in-law Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were present. Representatives from the current administration at the cathedral's service included Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Advisor James Bolton.

Sen. John McCain died on August 25 at the age of 81after battling brain cancer. He is survived by his seven children, Andy, Jimmy, Jack, Bridget, Meghan, Doug, and Sidney. 

This service was the last memorial in the week-long events that honored the service of the decorated Vietnam veteran and former POW. On Sunday, he will be buried at his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. McCain will be buried next to his best friend and former flight school roommate,  Adm. Chuck Larson, who died in 2014.

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