WASHINGTON – David Daks of New City, New York, paused in front of the American flag Friday to explain to his 6-year-old granddaughter, Arielle, that it was lowered to half-staff to honor the late Arizona Sen. John McCain.
The flagpole sits a few steps away from the path to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where the Daks family joined a steady stream of visitors to the memorial – known to most as “the Wall” – and other monuments saluting veterans on the National Mall.
Several people said they couldn’t help but think of McCain, a former Navy aviator and prisoner of war in Vietnam, as they searched for names of friends and loved ones engraved into the panels of black granite.
“I liked him,” said Daks, who said he voted for the Republican senator when he ran for president. “He was a real person with flaws and all.”
Daks’ daughter, Danielle, called McCain “one of the better politicians.”
“I like that he stood up for what he believed in. He wasn’t a cookie-cutter politician,” she said. “He was willing to go against his party for his convictions. We don’t have a lot of that today.”
Meanwhile, across town, members of Congress and other dignitaries were at the U.S. Capitol for a memorial ceremony for McCain. McCain is only the 31st person to lie in state in the Capitol.
Later Friday evening, hundreds were expected to gather for a candlelight vigil at the memorial to honor McCain.
Then, on Saturday morning, the motorcade carrying McCain’s casket to the Washington National Cathedral for a service will stop at the memorial where his wife, Cindy McCain, will lay a wreath.
Bob Healy, a ranger with the National Park Service, said a lot of people have streamed through the memorial in recent days, many of them saying they had come to Washington to pay their respects to McCain.
“Each has their own perspective on Sen. McCain and what he meant to them,” Healy said. “Many just felt he was a man of character and courage.”
Some visitors said they didn’t agree with McCain’s politics but praised him for his military service and efforts to work across the aisle.
“Even though I wasn’t a McCain supporter, hearing his name invokes dignity and decency,” Sue Halfond of Philadelphia said. “He seemed to put the needs and desires of the country above his own elevation.”
Halfond’s cousin, Lois Richards of Chicago, said she was impressed by the lineup of speakers McCain chose for his memorial service.
“I appreciate the clear message he’s sending with the speakers, especially Obama and Biden – two men who defeated him for the presidency,” she said of Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden. “To quote President Obama, Sen. McCain is saying we can disagree but not be disagreeable.’’
Deb Drummond of Brighton, Michigan, said she had considered going to the Capitol for the viewing but decided against braving the crowds. Instead, Drummond and Lori Weatherwax of Berkley, Michigan, visited the Vietnam wall.
They were in town for a conference of women who served in the Marines.
“As a veteran, he was a hero,” Drummond said. “I didn’t agree with his politics in the end, but I always respected him as a veteran.”
Weatherwax said McCain was at the forefront of veteran issues.
“He was an advocate for bettering the VA system,” she said. “You don’t have to be a Republican or Democrat to try to do the right thing for your country.”
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