John McCain died on Saturday after a year-long struggle with brain cancer.
He was an undisputed war hero and a Republican Senator with a complicated history as a legislator. McCain stood for a more principled brand of conservatism than many of his modern G.O.P. peers, and often expressed his distaste for the street-fighting and mud-slinging that defines Trumpism.
Over the years, McCain earned a reputation for breaking ranks from his fellow Republicans. He didn’t always cast his votes in ways that more left-leaning thinkers would have preferred, but in his words at least he took care to show respect and consideration for the views of his colleagues across the aisle.
Those qualities in particular became an increasingly refreshing presence in a post-2016 political atmosphere that’s largely been defined by partisan bickering and below-the-belt scheming. McCain served with honor, even at a time when fewer and fewer of his colleagues can say the same.
Prior to entering politics — a career that included more than 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, as well as a competitive presidential campaign in 2008 against Barack Obama — McCain was a military man. He joined the U.S. Navy in the late ’50s and became a pilot.
Over the years, McCain earned a reputation for breaking ranks from fellow Republicans.
McCain didn’t see his first combat assignment until 1967, when the Vietnam War was in full swing. Less than a year into his service — during his 23rd bombing run — McCain’s plane was shot down and he was captured by North Vietnamese forces. He then spent the next five and a half years as a prisoner of war, until his release in 1973.
He continued to serve in the years after his release, eventually taking on the role of the U.S. Navy’s liaison to the Senate. McCain retired in 1981 as a highly decorated captain. During his time in the Navy, he earned two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Bronze Star Medals, two Purple Hearts, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, and a Prisoner of War Medal.
This handful of paragraphs doesn’t fully capture McCain’s long and illustrious career. It should, however, give you the sense of a man who devoted his life to serving his country — which McCain certainly did.
He’s better remembered by the words of those who knew him. There are plenty of those to go around today as the McCain’s family, friends, colleagues, and even political rivals have taken to social media to share their touching remembrances of the departed Senator.
My heart is broken. I am so lucky to have lived the adventure of loving this incredible man for 38 years. He passed the way he lived, on his own terms, surrounded by the people he loved, in the the place he loved best.
— Cindy McCain (@cindymccain) August 26, 2018
I will need some time to absorb this, but I want Cindy —and the entire McCain family — to know they are in my prayers.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) August 26, 2018
.@SenJohnMcCain lived a life of service to his country, from his heroism in the Navy to 35 years in Congress. He was a tough politician, a trusted colleague, and there will simply never be another like him. My thoughts and prayers are with Cindy and his entire family.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 26, 2018
It’s also worth reading this thoughtful remembrance of McCain penned by his fellow Arizona Senator, Jeff Flake. Here’s an excerpt:
Life’s last mile took John to his beloved ranch in northern Arizona. It was there a few months ago where we sat for an hour or so, just the two of us, watching Oak Creek gently ripple under the shade of giant cottonwood trees. He named the birds singing above us in the branches. He quoted lines from the novels he loved. We reminisced about the past, of personalities come and gone. He spoke wistfully of those he admired and expressed optimism that such leaders would rise up in the future.
And now, in a way that would probably have him making wisecracks, we are wistful for John McCain. We may never see his like again, but it is his reflection of America that we need now more than ever. He was far too self-deprecating to ever have thought of himself as just such a towering figure, so I will go ahead and say it. He showed us who we are and who we can be when we are at our best. And he devoted his life to service and to the exalted idea of America that was bigger and better than him. Bigger than us all. His fidelity to that idea, and his idealism in balancing fierce political battles with a determination to always see the good and find the humanity in his opponents is an example that transcended politics and made him the man that he was.