In a ceremony true to the "maverick" that was Senator John McCain, political leaders, sports figures and family friends remembered the former senator as America's "hero" at his Arizona memorial service on Thursday -- all with a hearty dose of humor.
McCain, who died at the age of 81 last weekend after a battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that was diagnosed last year, was honored by close friends including his former chief of staff Grant Woods, who called his over 30 years of work with McCain the "greatest honor of my life."
"In Arizona, he was our hero. I think you can see from this outpouring of support and love for John McCain that he was America's hero," said Woods.
Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden highlighted the senator's spirit of bipartisanship as his lasting legacy in American politics.
"John's story is the American story, that's not hyperbole. It's the American story. Grounded in respect and decency, basic fairness. The intolerance for the abuse of power," said Biden.
Biden, who had a decades-long friendship with McCain, and whose son, Beau Biden, also died of the same cancer, said that "the world now shares with you the ache of John's death."
McCain's casket now heads to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland ahead of a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Friday where he will lie in state.
Read live updates as they happened:
Defense Secretary Mattis greets McCain family
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis greeted McCain's casket at Joint Base Andrews. McCain's casket is being accompanied by the Armed Forces Body Bearers.
Mattis walked beside Cindy McCain as they escorted McCain's casket.
McCain's casket arrives in D.C.
McCain's casket arrived at Joint Base Andrews on Thursday evening ahead of Friday's ceremonies.
Starting Friday, McCain will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol in D.C. A formal ceremony will take place in the Capitol rotunda to honor McCain's service to the nation. Following the morning ceremony, the public will be allowed to pay their respects for the remainder of the day. McCain, referred to as the the "conscience of the Senate" called his time in office in the nation's capitol "the most important job I have had in my life."
Watch the full John McCain memorial service
McCain departs Arizona for the final time
Leaving his adopted hometown of Arizona for one last time, McCain's casket along with his family, depart Phoenix for Maryland. He now will take part in three separate ceremonies in the DC/Maryland area this weekend.
Hearse carrying McCain departs for Phoenix airport
Shortly after 2:45 p.m., Sen. McCain's casket departed the Phoenix church escorted by a motorcade for the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. From there, McCain will be flown to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland ahead of Friday's ceremony at the U.S. Capitol where the late senator will lie in state.
Frank Sinatra's "My Way" plays as service concludes
In typical "maverick" fashion, the recessional began as "My Way" by Frank Sinatra played throughout the church. McCain's casket is carried by members of the national guard, leading the way of the McCain family out of the church.
Perhaps in a final jab at his frequent political foe President Trump, who was not included in this week's series of ceremonies, "My Way" was the same song played during the first official dance at Mr. Trump's presidential inauguration ball.
Meghan McCain's parting words to her father
"My father is gone, and I miss him as only an adoring daughter can, 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, enters his true and eternal life created by those who come before them, rising to meet the author of all things," Senior Pastor Dr. Noe Garcia reads from a message of McCain to her late father.
Brophy Ensemble sings "Arizona"
The all boys ensemble from the Brophy Brophy College Preparatory school sings for the second time at the service, the unofficial state song "Arizona" with the lyrics as follows:
"I love you, Arizona; Your mountains, deserts and streams; The rise of Dos Cabezas and the outlaws I see in my dreams. I love you Arizona, Superstitions and all; The warmth you give at sunrise; Your sunsets put music in us all. Oo, Arizona; You're the magic in me; Oo, Arizona, You're the life-blood of me."
Biden: "John's story is the American story"
"John's story is the American story, that's not hyperbole. It's the American story. Grounded in respect and decency, basic fairness. The intolerance for the abuse of power," said former Vice President Joe Biden.
He added, "John understood America was first and foremost an idea. Audacious and risky. Organized around ideals."
Biden said his legacy will continue to challenge and inspire generations of future leaders, saying his story is far from over and that he believed so "deeply and so passionately in the soul of America."
"He made average Americans proud," said Biden.
Biden added that "Even though John is not with us, he left us pretty clear instructions: 'Belive always in the promise and greatness in America because nothing is inevitable here.'"
Joe Biden on the pain of cancer
Former Vice President Joe Biden said he trusted McCain with his life "and I think he would have trusted me with his."
Biden noted that "there are times when life can be so cruel, pain so blinding it's hard to see anything else." He pointed to cancer, glioblastoma, that took the life of their mutual friend former Senator Ted Kennedy and Biden's own son Beau.
"It's brutal, it's relentless and its unforgiving," said a subdued Biden. "But the world now shares with you the ache of John's death," he added, saying he's received numerous calls, letters and messages of sympathy from around the world and the country.
"Character is destiny, and John had character," he added.
Biden, who has experienced his own share of family heartache and loss, said there will be days where a feeling, a smell or a fleeting image of McCain will bring sorrow. He added, however, that there will be a day when his memory will bring happiness instead of tears.
"You know you're going to make it when the image of your dad, your husband, your friend crosses your mind and a smile comes to your lip before a tear to your eye," he said.
"I promise you, I give you my word, I promise you, this I know, that day will come."
Former Vice President calls McCain a "brother"
"My name's Joe Biden. I'm a Democrat. And I love John McCain," the former vice president said as he began his eulogy with a room full of laughs during the somber ceremony.
"I always thought of John as a brother, with a hell of a lot of family fights," he said, recalling his time sparring in the senate with McCain.
The former vice president said during his time in the senate he talked endlessly with McCain about the "promise of America, because we were both cock-eyed optimists."
"We both believed there's not a single thing beyond the capacity of this country," said Biden. He added, "Above all we understood the same thing, all politics is personal, it's all about trust.
Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. on his "unlikely" friendship with McCain
Larry Fitzgerald, Jr., wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, said that he found an "unlikely" friendship with McCain after he visited Hanoi where McCain was held for five years as a POW.
"He was the epitome of toughness, and I do everything to avoid contact," said Fitzgerald.
The NFL pro said that McCain never judged others on the basis of their ethnicity, background or political affiliation. "He evaluated them on the merits of their character and the contents of their hearts."
Fitzgerald said McCain "cared about the substance of my heart more so than where I came from" which made him the "iconic figure in American politics" he is today.
Tommy Espinoza says McCain's imprisonment "molded" the senator
Tommy Espinoza, a family friend and President and Chief Executive Officer of the Raza Development Fund, said that McCain's five years as a POW in Hanoi "is where God molded this fantastic hero."
Espinoza shared an anecdote of hiring a traditional mariachi band to perform for a dinner with McCain and his family, saying it showed how committed to America's diverse tapestry the late senator was.
He said it was "no surprise" McCain took a risk in putting Sarah Palin on the 2008 presidential campaign ticket.
"He understood all of us, whether it was white, black, brown, Asian. To him it didn't make any difference," added Espinoza of McCain's "maverick" menatlity.
"What he knew is that we all make America great."
Grant Woods on McCain's spirit of bipartisanship
"We also worry here in Arizona about a bigger picture I hope what he stood for will maybe get a renewed look in our country, that's what he would want," said Grant Woods, the former two-term Attorney General for Arizona and family friend of McCain. He said McCain believed "so much that this in the end when it's all said and done, this Republican-Democrat thing isn't all that important. "
"We can work together as Americans," Woods added, saying that the late senator stood firmly in defense of a diverse America and the rights of every single citizen.
"Senator John McCain: He served his country with honor, he fought the good fight, he finished the race, he kept the faith," Woods concluded in his remarks.
Woods says working with McCain the "greatest honor of my life"
Woods recalled McCain's cunning wit and humor in his early days of politics. Woods, former chief of staff for then-Congressman McCain, called his over 30 years of work with McCain the "greatest honor of my life."
"It was once a little bit harrowing, a little bit wild, a little bit crazy but a lot of fun and the greatest honor of my life."
Woods said he's been often asked if he had a feeling he was working with someone so special. "My answer is yes absolutely, no question about it," said Woods.
On his love for the state, Woods said McCain "loved the people, our diversity, our Native American community, our hispanic culture and he loved the place -- in particular the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River."
"In Arizona, he was our hero. I think you can see from this outpouring of support and love for John McCain that he was America's hero," said Woods.
He added, "If John McCain fell in love with Arizona, Arizona fell in love with John McCain."
Memorial church service begins
The service inside the Phoenix church begins at 1:00 p.m. as speakers, including Biden took the stage. McCain's casket is slowly carried in as the family followed behind.
His casket, draped in American flag, is placed beside two large all-white flower arrangements.
In delivering the invocation, Senior Pastor Dr. Noe Garcia called McCain "a true American hero" who was "loved by this nation and this city, a man of courage, a man of faith and a man who dearly loved his family."
Shortly after, the Brophy Student Ensemble performed a somber rendition of the song "Amazing Grace."
McCain arrives to Phoenix church
Senator John McCain arrived at the Phoenix church with a stream of police officers on motorcycles escorting his casket just after 12:45 p.m. Members of the National Guard casket team carried his body as the McCain family, including wife Cindy, her sons Jack and Jimmy and daughters Meghan and Bridget, followed behind.
McCain departs en route to church service
Shortly after 12:08 p.m. the hearse carrying McCain's casket departed for its procession to the North Phoenix Baptist Church. Scores of police escort the processional along the Arizona roadways.
Hearse arrives to escort McCain's casket
At 12 noon, a police escort with the McCain family arrived at the Arizona State Capitol where his body had been lying in state since Wednesday.
Local mourners lined the Capitol Plaza holding 2008 McCain campaign posters as his casket, carried by members of the Arizona National Guard, was escorted into a black hearse.
The family now is traveling to the Phoenix church for the memorial service.
McCain's attention to Native Americans
Senator McCain made sure to include the participation of members of the Native American community, a rich demographic in Arizona, in his week of memorial services. Performing a hymn at Thursday's service is Jonah LittleSunday, a Navajo flutist.
Senator McCain had a special relationship with Arizona's Native American community, and "fought tirelessly to uphold the federal government's solemn obligation to care for and empower tribes," according to a statement from his office.
He twice chaired the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs from 1995-1997 and again from 2005-2007.
Biden's connection to the McCain family
Close family friend and former campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters that former Vice President Joe Biden has been quite close to the family as of late, offering his time and knowledge on glioblastoma, the same form of cancer that took the life of his son Beau.
Davis said that Biden has been "treated as a member of the family", most notably consoling an emotional Meghan McCain during an appearance on ABC's "The View" as they discussed her father's diagnosis.
Biden and McCain first became friends in the late 1970's when Senator McCain served as the Navy's liaison to the Senate and accompanied then-Senator Biden on overseas trips.
Lawmakers present for McCain's service
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Former Vice President Dan Quayle, 24 sitting U.S. Senators, four former senators, and other notable leaders from the State of Arizona are expected to attend the memorial service, many of whom are being flown out from D.C. to participate in the ceremony.
Here are the current members of Congress expected to attend:
- Senator Lamar Alexander (Tennessee)
- Senator John Barrasso (Wyoming)
- Senator John Boozman (Arkansas)
- Senator Bill Cassidy (Louisiana)
- Senator Bob Corker (Tennessee)
- Senator John Cornyn (Texas)
- Senator Steve Daines (Montana)
- Senator Jeff Flake (Arizona)
- Senator John Hoeven (North Dakota)
- Senator Jim Risch (Idaho)
- Senator Ben Sasse (Nebraska)
- Senator John Thune (South Dakota)
- Senator Roger Wicker (Mississippi)
- Senator Todd Young (Indiana)
- House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (California)
- Senator Michael Bennet (Colorado)
- Senator Chris Coons (Deleware)
- Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (New York)
- Senator Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota)
- Senator Mazie Hirono (Hawaii)
- Senator Joe Manchin (West Virginia)
- Senator Jeff Merkley (Oregon)
- Senator Patty Murray (Washington)
- Senator Jack Reed (Rhode Island)
- Senator Jon Tester (Montana)
McCain's first ceremony
Mourners lined streets and filed into the Arizona Capitol on Wednesday to pay their respects and view McCain's casket lying in state inside the Capitol Rotunda.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety estimates that 12-15 thousand members of the public filed through the state Capitol on Wednesday after the McCain family and close friends honored the late senator in a private ceremony -- the first in a series of week-long events celebrating McCain's life.
The ceremony was at times tearful as McCain's wife Cindy and daughter Meghan were seen weeping over the senator's casket. Later Wednesday evening, McCain's children Sidney, Jimmy and Jack visited with local mourners who were still visiting their father's casket.
John McCain memorial schedule
Senator McCain's family and friends, along with state, local and tribal officials, and business and civic leaders from across Arizona have been invited to attend the service at the North Phoenix Baptist Church.
The Arizona National Guard will retrieve McCain's casket ahead of the processional, and his family will proceed to the rear of the hearse to observe the casket removal before entering the church.
Beyond Biden, speakers at Thursday's ceremony include an old friend, Tommy Espinoza, Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals, McCain's son and daughter Andrew and Bridget, and former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods.
Afterward, McCain's casket will then depart Arizona for the last time en route to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. He will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol on Friday before his weekend service in Washington and final burial in Annapolis, Maryland.
Missing from the family services in Arizona is McCain's 106-year-old mother Roberta. The McCain matriarch will attend her son's service at the National Cathedral in D.C. on Saturday as well as the burial services at the U.S. Naval Academy on Sunday.