The first and last breaths of John McCain were spent in the service of our country.
As a boy, born to a Navy family in the Panama Canal Zone. As an old man, dying a member of the United States Senate.
Every minute of his life, save for that one year between his military retirement and his swearing in to the House of Representatives, was spent in the service of the United States.
And the cost of that service was high.
His body was scarred and disfigured, his arms bowed and unable to freely raise above his head. The wounds to his psyche and soul were hidden and only guessed at.
John Sidney McCain III, a link in a family chain of fighting men matched by few in our Republic.
His father and grandfather stood on the deck of the USS Missouri as Japan surrendered at the end of the Second World War. His sons have been on the ground and in the air in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And he defined the war in between.
The Silver Star, three Bronze Stars – each with the Valor designation, two Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Legion of Merit – also with a Valor designation. And more than five years of torturous, sadistic captivity at the hands of the communist North Vietnamese. From Annapolis to the rank of captain, he was a Navy man.
And from birth to death, he was an American man.
But who could have thought the midshipman with the chip on his shoulder would eclipse his father and grandfather in the annals of history. One was the commander in chief of the Pacific during World War 2; the other was commander in chief of the Pacific during Vietnam.
But the third to wear the name ran for president, and was a master of the Senate, an epochal force of constitutional principle and national defense. A grown up often surrounded by children. He rose in the shadow of Reagan, and served in the storm of Trump. A guy who was tough and direct and not afraid to knock you on your ass.
But most significantly, a guy who spoke with a gravity and authenticity born of his suffering and survival.
A man who was combat disabled, who had endured hundreds of beatings, who thought to kill himself to escape his torment, but who turned down an early release when it violated his honor and disrespected his fellows, pushed himself through excruciating physical therapy to regain flight status, and stood in defiance of presidents of both parties when he thought they were wrong.
And it all pivoted around those five years some five decades ago.
He was broken to be made strong.
The hero of a war that ended before two-thirds of today’s Americans were born.
A man whose foundational greatness was sometimes obscured by the smoke and fire of transient political fights.
A man whose death was mocked by some who love Trump, and some who hate Trump, but who are all together not worthy to mention his name. A man whose like may not be seen again for a long time.
A man who could put on a leather flight jacket and not be posing. Who could walk through a ward of injured servicemembers and be worthy of the experience. Who could walk onto the Senate floor and make history with the direction he pointed his thumb.
He was ornery and cantankerous, full of piss and vinegar, one of a small handful who shaped the history of his era. The sort of man you stand up for when he entered the room.
The sort of man who could tell a president he was full of crap.
His grandfather worked with FDR. His father worked with JFK and LBJ. And he worked with six, a string of men he was mostly better than, a string of men whose accomplishments mostly failed to approach his own.
And now time has done what the Forrestal fire, a surface-to-air missile, and squads of Vietnamese torturers could not.
It has released him from his duties.
It has passed to the next McCains the responsibility to continue the chain.
It has taken home a man whose life was dedicated to a simple oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, and to bear true faith and allegiance to it.
It has challenged those of us to remain to continue his labors, and it has left a pattern the best in future generations will strive to follow.
Fair seas and following winds, Captain McCain. You now sail with your fathers, and all the heroes of the Republic.
ARLINGTON, VA - NOVEMBER 14: U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks after he was presented with the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal during a special Twilight Tattoo performance November 14, 2017 at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia. Sen. McCain was honored for over 63 years of dedicated service to the nation and the U.S. Navy. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)