John McCain, Vietnam War Hero and Arizona Senator, Dies At 81

Arizona Sen. John Sidney McCain III, a Vietnam war hero and a public servant for more than 35 years, died on Saturday, a little more than a year since he was first diagnosed with brain cancer. He was 81.

McCain’s office released a statement, writing, “Senator John Sidney McCain III died at 4:28 p.m. on August 25, 2018.” The Arizona senator announced on July 19, 2017, that he had been diagnosed with a glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain tumor. His family had announced on Friday that he was discontinuing treatment.

McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, posted a tribute to her father on social media shortly after his death, writing that she was with her father “at his end as he was with [her] at [her] beginning.”

“My father is gone, and I miss him as only an adoring daughter can,” she wrote. “But in this loss, and in this sorrow, I take comfort in this: John McCain, hero of the republic and to his little girl, wakes today to something more glorious than anything on this earth. Today the warrior enters his true and eternal life.”

“All that I am is thanks to him. Now that he is gone, the task of my lifetime is to live up to his example, his expectations, and his love,” she added.

McCain’s wife, Cindy McCain, tweeted: “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.”

Born in 1936, McCain became a part of a naval family steeped heavily in patriotism. Both his grandfather and father were four-star admirals, with his father, John McCain Jr., rising to commander in chief of Pacific forces in the Vietnam War, NBC News reports.

He followed in his family’s footsteps and graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1958. McCain, however, barely made it out, graduating fifth from the bottom of his class.

In a speech to midshipmen at the Naval Academy in October 2017, McCain joked about his less-than-stellar academic performance, saying, “My superiors didn’t hold me in very high esteem in those days. To be honest, I wasn’t too thrilled to be here back then, and I was as relieved to graduate — fifth from the bottom of my class — as the Naval Academy was to see me go.”

Following his graduation, McCain volunteered for combat duty in the Vietnam War, and received orders to ship out in 1967, NBC News reports.

In October 1967, McCain’s plane was shot down over North Vietnam. His arms were broken, as well as his knee, and he was taken as a prisoner of war.

He ended up having to endure nearly five-and-a-half-years in the prisoner of war camp. When Vietnamese soldiers learned that McCain was the son of an admiral, they set out to use him for propaganda purposes, and he was tortured and beaten. McCain was given the chance of an early release, but refused, adhering to a code of conduct that all prisoners of war must be released in order of capture.

It wasn’t until the war ended in 1973 that McCain was finally set free.

“I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's,” McCain said while accepting the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

From a prisoner of war, McCain ending up finding himself being one of the most respected and influential politicians in the country. In his more than 35 years in Congress, McCain always encouraged his colleagues to reach across the aisle for the good of the country, always reminding us that “much more unites us than divides us.”

McCain was always known as the independent voice of the Republican Party on a variety of issues, including campaign finance, torture and the Iraq War. The Arizona senator went against his own party’s president, George W. Bush, on strategy for the Iraq War.

On Saturday, however, Bush said in a statement following McCain’s death: “Some lives are so vivid, it is difficult to imagine them ended. Some voices are so vibrant, it is hard to think of them stilled. John McCain was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order. He was a public servant in the finest traditions of our country. And to me, he was a friend whom I'll deeply miss.”

In the 2008 presidential election, McCain had publicly denounced a conspiracy theory regarding fellow presidential candidate Barack Obama at a town hall in Pennsylvania, ABC News reports.

A woman in the audience said that she could not trust Obama because “he’s an Arab.”

“No, ma’am,” McCain replied to the woman. “He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about. He is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president.”

Obama released a statement on Saturday, saying that despite all of their difference, he and McCain shared a “fidelity to something higher — the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched, and sacrificed.”

“Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did,” Obama added. “But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt.”

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, fellow Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake discussed McCain’s legacy with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos. When asked what was the greatest lesson he learned from McCain, Flake said, “Oh, to forgive. You know, his people talk about [how] he had a temper, he was passionate. That was certainly the case, but he would quickly forgive and move on,” adding that McCain always able “to see the good in his opponents.”

“That is something that particularly these days we could use a lot more of. That's a lesson that he taught everyone,” Flake added.

Former Vice President and close friend to McCain, Joe Biden, issued a statement on Saturday, saying that he, America and the world would miss the senator.

“John McCain will cast a long shadow,” Biden said in his statement. “His impact on America hasn’t ended. Not even close. It will go on for many years to come.”

Over the course of his political career, McCain forged many deep friendships, including with his colleague Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“I can't think of anything I've done since 1999 politically, in many ways personally, that was worth doing without John,” Graham said about his friend in July. “He loves his family. He loves his friends. But his passion above all else is his passion for his country.”

President Donald Trump also shared his condolences on Saturday, writing, “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!”

Trump and McCain, however, had shared a few bitter words in the past. Their war of words stemmed back to 2015 when Trump, who had avoided service in the Vietnam War due to foot issues, disparaged McCain’s service, saying he was “not a war hero,” ABC News reports.

Last October, McCain spoke of his years in public service.

“I’ve had the good fortune to spend 60 years in service to this wondrous land,” McCain said. “It has not been perfect service, to be sure, and there were probably times when the country might have benefited from a little less of my help.”

"But I’ve tried to deserve the privilege as best I can, and I’ve been repaid a thousand times over with adventures, with good company, and with the satisfaction of serving something more important than myself, of being a bit player in the extraordinary story of America,” McCain added. “And I am so very grateful.”