McCain was ‘giant among all of us’, Biden says at memorial service

Six-term US senator to lie in state in Washington ahead of Saturday funeral

John McCain was a "giant among all of us", former vice-president John Biden said on Thursday as he paid tribute to his friend and long-time colleague at a memorial service in Phoenix, Arizona.

Addressing the packed church of North Phoenix Baptist Church, Mr Biden said that John McCain had understood that “America’s future didn’t rest on heroes” and that “ordinary people given half a chance are capable of doing extraordinary things”.

Mr McCain died last Saturday after a 13-month battle with brain cancer.

"John's story is the American story, that's not hyperbole," Mr Biden said of the Vietnam war veteran and Republican senator. "It's the American story – grounded in respect and decency, basic fairness. The intolerance for the abuse of power."


Stressing his political differences from the Arizona senator, he began his eulogy with the words: "My name's Joe Biden. I'm a Democrat and I love John McCain."

He also touched on his own loss as he reflected on the death of his son Beau from brain cancer in 2015.

“The disease that took John’s life, that took our friend Ted Kennedy’s life, that took my son Beau’s life, is brutal, relentless, unforgiving,” Mr Biden said. “It takes so much from those we love – and from the families who love them – that in order to survive we have to remember how they lived, not how they died.”

Colleagues and friends

Mr Biden and Mr McCain served as colleagues in the Senate for two decades and remained friends following Biden's move to the White House when he served as vice-president to Barack Obama.

More than 3,000 people, including 1,000 members of the public, attended the service in Arizona’s capital.

Mr McCain's wife and children led mourners, many of whom had lined up since early morning. Dozens of members of Congress travelled to Phoenix for the service, from both political parties.

Pastor Dr Noe Garcia concluded the ceremony by reading from a message written by Meghan McCain to her father. "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."

Mr McCain’s body was flown to Washington DC on a US airforce military plane from Phoenix on Thursday. The plane was due to arrive at Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington.

Paying respects

The six-term senator will lie in state in the US Capitol on Friday, only the 13th member of the senate to be given that honour. Family, friends and invited guests will attend a private arrival ceremony in the morning before members of the public will be permitted to pay their respects to the six-term senator in the afternoon.

Among those who will attend the morning ceremony is Ireland's Ambassador to the United States, Dan Mulhall.

Speaking ahead of the ceremony, Mr Mulhall said he was honoured to represent Ireland at the event and at Mr McCain's funeral on Saturday, noting that Mr McCain had requested Danny Boy to be sung at his funeral service. "The senator was a great ally and friend of Ireland both on immigration reform and on the Northern Ireland peace process," he said. "He leaves behind a remarkable legacy and his contribution in both the US Senate and around the world will be missed."

Mr McCain's funeral service takes place at 10am on Saturday in Washington National Cathedral. Mr McCain's 106-year-old mother is expected to attend. Former presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama will also address mourners. On Sunday, Mr McCain will be buried at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, following a short private service.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent