PHOENIX — The celebration of Sen. John McCain’s life as a former prisoner of war and maverick politician enters a second day with a church service and a military salute before his casket departs his adopted state of Arizona for the U.S. Capitol.
A motorcade with McCain’s remains leaves Thursday morning from the Arizona Capitol, where McCain has been lying in state so thousands of people could say goodbye.
Visibly bereft family and friends gathered there Wednesday for an emotional private service, where Cindy McCain pressed her face against her husband’s coffin and daughter Meghan McCain erupted in audible sobs.
Arizona residents have been invited to honor McCain on Thursday by lining the route from the Capitol to the North Phoenix Baptist Church, where an honor guard will greet the hearse when it arrives. Along with invited family and friends, around 1,000 seats were being made available to members of the public who signed up.
Former Vice President Joe Biden was delivering remarks at Thursday’s service, where a number of friends and family members of McCain will also speak. A choir from the Jesuit-run Brophy College Preparatory school that McCain’s sons Jack and Jimmy attended will sing “Amazing Grace” and “Arizona.” The recessional music will be Frank Sinatra’s signature song, “My Way,” paying tribute to a man who became known for following his own path based on his personal principles.
The much smaller service on Wednesday was solemn and subdued. But it was nevertheless filled with affecting moments and demonstrations of deep respect for the statesman and Navy pilot war hero who was held by the North Vietnamese for 5½ years after being shot down over Hanoi.
Gov. Doug Ducey remembered McCain as “Arizona’s favorite adopted son” on what would have been his 82nd birthday at the brief ceremony attended by his wife and children, friends and fellow politicians. McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone while his father, who went on to become an admiral, served in the military.
The Capitol was then opened to the public Wednesday afternoon, allowing visitors to walk by the flag-draped closed casket after waiting in line outside in the temperatures that reached a high of 104 degrees (40 Celsius). Mariachi singer Jesus Rojas strummed a guitar and sang “Cielito Lindo” in the senator’s honor.
Inside, former military members in shorts and T-shirts stopped and saluted. Others placed their hand over their heart or bowed, including Vietnamese-born residents who traveled from Southern California.
Ray Riordan, an 87-year-old Navy veteran who fought in the Korean War, came from Payson, Arizona.
“I grew up where a handshake was a contract and your word was your bond,” Riordan said. “He represented the last of that as far as I’m concerned.”
By the time government offices closed for the day, as many as 6,000 people had filed by, and that number grew to about 7,500 Wednesday night, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said.
Late Wednesday night, the McCain family issued a statement saying that about 15,000 people came to pay their respects to the late senator at the Capitol.
After Thursday’s church service, a motorcade will take McCain’s casket to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for a final salute from members of the Arizona Air and Army National Guard.
From there, a C-32 military aircraft will take McCain to the East Coast for another public viewing at the U.S. Capitol on Friday.
There will be a service at the Washington National Cathedral on Saturday, followed by burial at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.