Former refugees, war veterans pay respects to John McCain

Thousands queued on a blazing hot day in Phoenix, Arizona, to pay their respects to the late senator John McCain, who died on Aug 25 at 81.
Mrs Cindy McCain, wife of the late US Senator John McCain, kissing his casket during a memorial service at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Wednesday, the first of four days honouring Mr McCain. He will be buried on Sunday at the US Naval Academy in
Mrs Cindy McCain, wife of the late US Senator John McCain, kissing his casket during a memorial service at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Wednesday, the first of four days honouring Mr McCain. He will be buried on Sunday at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Thousands queue up to honour the life and work of 'maverick' US Senator John McCain

Thousands queued on a scorching hot day in Phoenix, Arizona, to pay their respects to the late Senator John McCain, who died last Saturday, as his body lay in state in the desert city.

A cortege carried his body to the Arizona Capitol rotunda on Wednesday morning, past contingents of United States armed forces, state and local police, and up to 500 war veterans, some of whom had personal memories of Mr McCain.

At a private service on what would have been his 82nd birthday, Mr McCain's widow, Cindy, patted the casket draped with the American flag before leaning over and resting her head on it for a moment. The couple's daughter, Meghan, wept.

Many others were also in tears as they filed solemnly past the casket, often after waiting for hours outside in the blazing Arizona sun. Several men saluted the casket.

Mr Raymond Gonzales, 70, a veteran of Vietnam and the first Gulf War in 1990, told The Straits Times that Mr McCain had helped him recover after Vietnam.

"Right after Vietnam, I had PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) issues," he said.

"I was only about 20 at the time. It took me years to know I had PTSD. John McCain was very instrumental as far as leading me on the right path, to get my compensation from the VA," he added, referring to the US Department of Veterans' Affairs.


Mr Raymond Gonzales, 70, said Mr McCain helped him when he had PTSD after the Vietnam War. ST PHOTO: NIRMAL GHOSH

Mrs Cindy McCain, wife of the late US Senator John McCain, kissing his casket during a memorial service at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Wednesday, the first of four days honouring Mr McCain. He will be buried on Sunday at the US Naval Academy in
Mrs Cindy McCain, wife of the late US Senator John McCain, kissing his casket during a memorial service at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Wednesday, the first of four days honouring Mr McCain. He will be buried on Sunday at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. PHOTO: AFP

"I owe him... a kind of final salute," he said. "I met him and shook his hand and he touched me in that moment. I am a Democrat, but I love this man because he brings honour to just being a man."

Dr Vernet Joseph, 41, arrived early to queue outside the Capitol for a chance to pay his respects to the war hero and two-time Republican presidential candidate.


Dr Vernet Joseph, 41, said that as an army veteran, he would be remiss if he did not pay his respects to Mr McCain. ST PHOTO: NIRMAL GHOSH

"As an army veteran, an army warrant officer for 20-plus years, serving my country, I would be remiss if I didn't show up to honour who we call our maverick," Dr Joseph said.

The late senator "was a statesman, he was a father, a husband; he played all the roles, all the parts".

 
 

"I love the man, the leader, and the light and legacy that he has left behind, so I had to show up and pay homage," he said.

Among those who travelled to Phoenix was a group of more than 80 Vietnamese Americans from the Little Saigon community of Orange County in southern California.

They were all wearing yellow "Vietnamese Refugee Community" T-shirts with the words "We salute our hero Senator John McCain".

"We love him," Mr Francis Nguyen, 60, told The Straits Times.

Mr McCain, whose father and grandfather were admirals in the US Navy, was shot down over Hanoi by the North Vietnamese military on Oct 26, 1967, while on a bombing run, and survived 5½ years as a prisoner of war.

But he went on to work to mend US-Vietnam relations and helped Vietnamese refugees in the US reunite with their families.

Many have described Mr McCain as a maverick.

Politically, he was certainly a maverick for the Republican Party, having famously voted against President Donald Trump's repeal of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. That act earned him the seemingly lasting annoyance of the President.

"When he believed he was right, he didn't back down," said nurse Katherine McMorris, 66. "He was willing to stand up for what he believed in. To me that's a maverick."


Ms Katherine McMorris, 66, said Mr McCain was a maverick because he didn't back down on what he believed was right. ST PHOTO: NIRMAL GHOSH

Wednesday was the first of four days honouring Mr McCain. Former vice-president Joe Biden was due to speak at a service in Phoenix on Thursday morning, after which the body was to be flown to Washington to lie in state at the US Capitol. He will then be buried on Sunday at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Mr McCain specifically instructed that Mr Trump not be invited to his funeral.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2018, with the headline 'Former refugees, war veterans pay respects to McCain'. Print Edition | Subscribe