In ancient Sparta, fallen warriors were carried home on their shields. On Wednesday, an American flag draped the casket of John McCain – sailor and senator, husband and father – as it was placed on the shield of his beloved Arizona.

His widow and other family members, friends and Arizona leaders watched silently as members of the Arizona National Guard carried the casket into the Capitol rotunda, stopping on a mosaic of the Arizona state seal: a shield featuring the motto Ditat Deus (“God enriches” in Latin) flanked by images honoring mining, ranching, farming, scenery and Roosevelt Dam – nods to the five Cs of the state McCain called home for nearly four decades.

Family members were the first to pay their respects. Cindy McCain, the senator’s wife, touched his casket before laying her cheek against the flag. Their seven children walked through after her, some stoic, some emotional. McCain’s daughter Meghan, a TV personality who often posted photos of her father and updates about his health, sobbed as she touched the casket.

Gov. Doug Ducey reminded those gathered at the private ceremony that McCain’s long relationship with public service began thousands of miles away, in North Vietnam, in a lingering image of grimace and stoicism as a wounded prisoner of war in 1967-73.

“Nobody expected John McCain to make it through the night, but dying was not in his plan,” the governor said.

McCain, a former Navy pilot who arrived in Arizona in 1981, was elected to Congress and later the Senate, in the process becoming an Arizona icon, Ducey said. And, like another Arizona wonder, he said, most thought McCain would endure.

“Imagining Arizona without John McCain is like picturing Arizona without the Grand Canyon,” he said. “It’s just not natural.”

Former Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Gilbert, a friend, placed a wreath of white roses in front of the casket, then bowed his head.

In the final moments of the service, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, McCain’s Republican colleague and friend, gave the benediction. He called on God to provide peace to those who knew the senator.

“Let us go now from this place in peace.”


Story by CHRIS McCRORY, Cronkite News