John McCain 1936-2018

Written by Keridwen Cornelius & Chip Scutari Category: People Issue: October 2018
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War hero. Statesman. Arizonan. In this celebration of the life and career of Senator John McCain, we offer two distinct perspectives of his legacy.

McCAIN THE AMERICAN
Courage defined the life of John McCain – from the prisoner camps of Hanoi to the chambers of the U.S. Senate.

By Keridwen Cornelius

In Havana, Cuba – where Ernest Hemingway wrote John McCain’s favorite novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls – signs display before-and-after photos of the formerly crumbling and now beautifully restored Old City. They read, “Para no olvidar” – Spanish for “Lest we forget.” The sign-makers realized that, when people are caught up in sweeping change, our vision of the big picture can become as blurry as a faded photograph. So we need standards – signs, declarations of principles and principled people – to remind us what we were, what we are and what we should be.

John McCain, who died on Saturday, August 25, after a 13-month battle with brain cancer, was one of those standards for Americans. Through his 35-plus years in the U.S. Senate and House, his enduring words, his honorable deeds and even his serious mistakes, his life formed a clear picture reminding us, lest we forget, what America stands for.

“We live in a land made from ideals, not blood and soil,” McCain announced when he was awarded the Liberty Medal last October, three months after his diagnosis. “We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad.”

Official U.S. Senate portrait circa 1987McCain’s childhood prepared him for a life rooted in ideals. He was born at a Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone to an esteemed military family. Both his father and grandfather were four-star admirals in the U.S. Navy, and the boy was expected to earn his own constellation of awards. But when McCain entered the Naval Academy, he thumbed his nose at his pedigree. He was a partier and rebel who graduated near the bottom of his class. When he trained as a naval aviator, he was known as a reckless daredevil who crashed three times. But his outlook changed in the Vietnam War.

Lest we forget what courage is, in a time when powerbrokers use fear like a leash to lead us, McCain’s service in Vietnam is a reminder. In 1967, during the 31-year-old’s 23rd combat mission, a missile struck his A-4E Skyhawk plane. Spinning toward the ground, he ejected, the force breaking both arms and one leg. He plummeted into a lake in Hanoi. Vietnamese soldiers dragged him out, bayoneted him in the foot and groin, smashed his shoulder with a rifle and threw him in Hoa Lo Prison. He received inadequate, painkiller-free medical care and withered to skin and partially broken bones.

The capture of this Navy admiral’s son attracted international attention. Eight months later, when prison officials learned McCain’s father was taking command of the U.S. forces in the Pacific, they told him he could leave. McCain refused. He said military code dictated that POWs be released in order of capture. The officers said there was an exception for sick or injured people. McCain said he wasn’t that injured.

President Richard Nixon welcomes him upon his release from VietnamLater, President Donald Trump, who used his privilege to evade the draft five times, said of McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.” So, lest we forget what honor is, McCain sacrificed his privilege so other soldiers could go free.

As punishment, the guards broke his ribs, rebroke his arm and tortured him to extract a false confession that he was a “black criminal” and an “air pirate.” He endured more than two years in solitary confinement, tapping out code messages to the man in the next cell between beatings. He was imprisoned for a total of five and a half years. Trapped in his dungeon, the formerly carefree troublemaker’s convictions crystallized. “It wasn’t until I had lost America for a time that I realized how much I loved her,” he wrote in his first memoir, Faith of My Fathers. The married father of three was deprived of family, friends and country. But he carried within him America’s ideals. “And since those ideals were all that I possessed of my country,” he wrote, “they became all the more important to me.”

Due to his injuries, for the rest of his life McCain walked with a limp and couldn’t raise his arms high enough to comb his hair. So he no longer saw a future in the Navy. He became a Navy lobbyist to the Senate, which inspired him to enter politics. At the same time, he and his wife separated. Five years without contact would strain any marriage, but McCain placed most of the blame on his own “selfishness and immaturity,” he wrote in his second memoir, Worth the Fighting For.

with Vietnamese officials outside his cell at “The Plantation,” the former POW camp where he spent several yearsIn 1979, he met native Phoenician Cindy Hensley. The two quickly married and moved to Arizona. Despite having no campaigning experience and few connections in his new state, McCain ran for Congress in 1982. During one debate, he was accused for the umpteenth time of being a carpetbagger. McCain responded angrily, yet effectively, that the place he lived longest was the Hanoi POW camp. He won the election.

Lest we forget what selfless service to a greater cause looks like, McCain later put aside his anger toward his captors in Hanoi. After he became a senator in 1987, he gained a spot on the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. He even allied with Democratic Senator John Kerry, whose anti-Vietnam War activism had upset McCain as a POW, to help restore diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam. “I cannot allow whatever resentments I incurred during my time in Vietnam to hold me from doing what is so clearly my duty,” McCain said in 1995. McCain would also spend his career fiercely speaking out against torture, including torture committed by the U.S.

Yet McCain was a flawed man who made numerous, sometimes detrimental mistakes. When his friend and campaign donor Charles Keating was under federal investigation for his role in the savings and loan crisis, McCain and other senators met with federal regulators to support Keating. A Senate Ethics Committee cleared McCain, but the scandal left a permanent blot on his career. However, lest we forget what reflection is, the incident motivated McCain to champion bipartisan campaign finance reform and rein in the power of special interest groups like Keating’s. That move upset many Republicans and branded McCain as a maverick willing to stand against his party.

McCain returns to Hanoi in 1985During McCain’s gloves-off showdown against George W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, one of the heavyweight issues was the Confederate flag flying above South Carolina’s Capitol. Just before that state’s primary, McCain was asked on Face the Nation what the battle flag meant to him. He answered that it was “offensive” and “a symbol of racism and slavery.” Afterward, his aides convinced him that in order to win, he had to clarify his position – by lying. They wrote a statement of weasel words about believing the flag was “a symbol of heritage,” which he read from a piece of paper several times on the campaign trail. But lest we forget what integrity is, McCain felt guilty about his false canned statement and returned to South Carolina after his defeat to apologize: “I want to tell the people of South Carolina and all Americans that I sincerely regret breaking my promise to always tell you the truth… I was raised to know that I should never sacrifice principle for personal ambition. I regret very much having done so.”

McCain was a strong supporter of the Iraq War, which he later admitted “can’t be judged as anything other than a mistake, a very serious one, and I have to accept my share of the blame for it.” At a town hall meeting during his 2008 presidential campaign, a woman told him she wore a black bracelet in memory of her son, who was killed in Baghdad. “My first thought in the instant she uttered her statement was that she would hold me responsible for her loss, and she would be right to do so,” McCain recalled in his final book, The Restless Wave. Instead, she asked him to wear her son’s bracelet so McCain would remember his mission and the sacrifices made by those who fought for it. Lest we forget what accountability is, McCain wrote, “I wore Matthew Stanley’s bracelet every day of the campaign, and I’ve worn it every day since. I’ll wear it for the rest of my life.”

During that campaign, McCain wanted to choose Democrat-turned-Independent Senator Joe Lieberman as his vice presidential nominee. The pair would represent “a national unity ticket pledged to avoid partisan excesses in the hope of overcoming Washington gridlock,” McCain explained in The Restless Wave. Instead, he caved to his aides and picked then-governor of Alaska Sarah Palin. As political commentator David Brooks put it in HBO’s McCain documentary, For Whom the Bell Tolls, “In picking Sarah Palin, [McCain] basically took a disease that was running through the Republican Party… a disease that I will call anti-intellectualism, disrespect for facts, and he put it right at the center of the party. So she was a chapter in the rise of a cheap kind of populism.”

with Navy buddies in 1965We now live in a time when the most recent presidential campaign involved inciting violence against the other side. So lest we forget what decency is, McCain refused to play upon prejudices when he ran against Barack Obama. At another town meeting, a woman said she couldn’t trust Obama because he’s an Arab. (He is not an Arab.) “No, ma’am,” McCain retorted. “He’s a decent family man and citizen who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”

Today, Americans are more fractured than at any time since perhaps the Civil War. So lest we forget what cooperation is, McCain continually reached across the aisle. The Republican senator befriended Democrats, purposely traveled with politically diverse delegations and developed bipartisan legislation. Often to the infuriation of people in both parties, he recognized the value of compromise. “Our arcane rules and customs are deliberately intended to require broad cooperation to function well at all,” he wrote in The Restless Wave. “Sweeping changes aren’t easily achieved in our system of government. Incremental reform is often all that is possible, and there’s value and honor in that.”

When the bell tolled for McCain after his July 2017 diagnosis, he became even more reflective. Stitched up after his first surgery, he stepped onto the Senate floor to deliver a speech, holding up American ideals like Liberty waving a tattered flag. “We are the servants of a great nation, ‘a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,’” he announced, quoting Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of principles, the Gettysburg Address. “What greater cause could we hope to serve than helping keep America the strong, aspiring, inspirational beacon of liberty and defender of the dignity of all human beings and their right to freedom and equal justice? That is the cause that binds us and is so much more powerful and worthy than the small differences that divide us.”

McCain leaves behind a wife, seven children and, as he put it, “a happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals.” As he closed The Restless Wave, he left these words as a reminder to Americans, lest we forget: “We need each other. We need friends in the world, and they need us. The bell tolls for us, my friends.”

McCain as an infant with grandfather John Sidney McCain Sr. and father John Sidney McCain Jr. in 1936
The senator during a 2003 PHOENIX magazine shoot coinciding with the release of his 2002 memoir Citizen McCain

From left: McCain as an infant with grandfather John Sidney McCain Sr. and father John Sidney McCain Jr. in 1936; The senator during a 2003 PHOENIX magazine shoot coinciding with the release of his 2002 memoir Citizen McCain

From left, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., McCain and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., hold a press conference to demand assurances on the “skinny” health care repeal bill in the Capitol on Thursday, July 27, 2017. McCain later cast the deciding vote killing the measure.From left, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., McCain and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., hold a press conference to demand assurances on the “skinny” health care repeal bill in the Capitol on Thursday, July 27, 2017. McCain later cast the deciding vote killing the measure.

 

McCAIN THE ARIZONAN
Were John McCain and Arizona destined for one another? Explore the late U.S. Senator’s Arizona period, as told by the friends and associates who knew him best.  

By Chip Scutari

It was 1982, on his first day as chief of staff for then-Congressman-elect John McCain, a former POW who had moved to the East Valley only a year earlier. Grant Woods’ new boss insisted on driving them through his congressional district – even though he didn’t know the streets of Mesa and Tempe. They buckled their seatbelts at 7 a.m. and plowed through a marathon of meetings fueled by fast food, coffee and sarcastic banter. Their day ended long after the sun set on the Superstition Mountains.

Woods, an athletic 20-something at the time, was exhausted. But the 46-year-old McCain didn’t think they had accomplished enough. “I’ll pick you up at 6 [a.m.] tomorrow,” Woods recalls McCain saying. “I couldn’t believe it, but I didn’t really have a choice. Oh, yeah, and he wasn’t the greatest driver, either.”

McCain and Arizona Republic columnist and women’s editor Ginger Hutton moonlight as models for a February 1985 feature in PHOENIX magazineJohn Sidney McCain III – impatient, indefatigable, imperfect, irascible and fiercely independent – tore through his adopted home state like a human haboob. Dozens of staffers, campaign aides and advisers – called the “McCain Mafia” – were known to wave the “white flag” because his frenetic pace wore them out. He never really took his foot off the gas until his final days battling a devastating form of brain cancer.

McCain was quintessential Arizona: a transplant, anti-establishment, hard-charging, ambitious and opinionated. With no family ties here, he embraced Arizona’s meritocracy and fell in love with its landscape, a perfect fit for the 48th state.

“Most Arizonans, like John, are not real tolerant for bullshit,” says Woods, who became Arizona attorney general and remains a prominent fixture in Arizona politics. “They want straight talk and have a tradition of rewarding elected officials who speak plainly. In a nutshell, that’s John McCain.”

McCain’s Arizona story began in the early 1980s.

He and Arizona became intertwined overnight – though he was an acquired taste for some. Arizonans respected his Energizer Bunny pace and enjoyed his quick wit, but some Phoenicians and political opponents scoffed at his occasional surliness and short fuse. When annoyed, his response might be no more than a grunt or a groan, as if to say: “Pound sand, you jerk.”

The gruffness was part of his charm, which the former United States Navy aviator used to woo a striking local beverage heiress named Cindy Lou Hensley, whose family owned Hensley & Co., an alcohol wholesaler and distributor. One of his other loves was Arizona’s natural beauty. An unabashed conservationist, McCain found his happy place at North Kaibab and the Vermilion Cliffs, part of a remote, unspoiled 294,000-acre slice of heaven in northern Arizona. Kurt Davis, a longtime McCain confidant and Arizona Game and Fish Commissioner, says the senator had a passion for “wildlife, water and wilderness.” Davis recalled watching in disbelief once as McCain stood in the middle of a highway doing his best Ansel Adams imitation.

McCain and wife Cindy cheering on the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007.“There was this beautiful, iconic Arizona sunset, and there is John McCain standing on [AZ-89A] snapping pictures on his iPhone for 45 minutes,” Davis says. “He was delighting in the simple beauty of the Arizona sunset. He believed that the natural world is part of who we are as human beings.”

Military hawk. Campaign finance crusader. King of sarcasm. Sports nut. These multifaceted pieces helped McCain’s iconoclastic presence transcend politics and become part of Arizona pop culture.

“I came here in 1985, and, like [Senator] Barry Goldwater to others, John McCain to me embodied the Arizona brand – optimistic, outspoken and sometimes thorny,” says Park Howell, a veteran advertising executive who owns Business of Story in Phoenix.

And yet, McCain’s Arizona story might easily have been written in another state.

If his future wife had not been a Phoenix native, McCain – well-known because of his heroic experience as a Vietnam prisoner of war – could have planted his political roots anywhere. Fate intervened when McCain met Hensley in Hawaii during one of his trips as a Navy liaison to the U.S. Senate. She was 17 years his junior. McCain later told confidants that his first marriage to Carol Shepp was failing when he and Cindy started their whirlwind courtship. In 1980, the couple married – soon after McCain’s divorce was final.

Posing with Grant Woods, dressed as a caveman, McCain wrote, “You’re a handsome guy! But please get a haircut,” circa 1984Legend has it that McCain knocked on 40,000 doors across the East Valley to win his first Congressional seat in 1982. He stormed into the U.S. Senate in 1986, filling the seat of another one-named Arizona legend, Goldwater. The trajectory of Arizona – a state exploding in population, prominence and possibilities – in many ways would mirror the arc of McCain’s career.

“Everybody gets two senators, but we were the only ones who got John McCain,” Woods says. “This is a huge loss for the world.”

Despite his international status, McCain’s Everyman eating habits would nauseate health buffs. He was a walking Wikipedia of every greasy spoon in the state. He loved to devour hot dogs at Dad’s Dogs in Mesa, BLTs and eclairs at Katz’s Deli on Central Avenue (now Postino WineCafé) and old-school, too-cheesy Mexican food at the Tee Pee Tap Room near 41st Street and Indian School Road. And he could seemingly drink his weight in coffee all day, every day.

He also liked a drink now and then – but none of the fancy stuff. Managers at Postino on Central kindly kept a cold sixer of Budweiser under the bar for him, in lieu of the fermented grape juice he preferred not to drink.

Woods and McCain at a Phoenix Coyotes 2012 playoffs gameUnlike his simple diet of fast food and java, McCain’s friendships were forged through an eclectic menu of lifelong connections in and out of political life.

Like Tommy Espinoza. The handsome, high-profile Latino community leader was running Chicanos Por La Causa in the early 1980s when he met McCain. The two men bonded instantly during a dinnertime conversation and McCain, like many politicians, promised to keep in touch.

Espinoza liked McCain’s no-nonsense persona and admired his combination of faith and fearlessness in surviving the harrowing “Hanoi Hilton.” He invited McCain to his South Phoenix house for dinner, a Mexican tradition of a home-cooked meal with family and friends. He gave McCain’s office a date for dinner, but when the day arrived, the Congressman’s staff said he was running late. Espinoza got that “Oh boy, here we go again” feeling. Not to worry, a congressional staffer said, it was McCain’s birthday, but he would be there. Espinoza immediately called his favorite mariachi band to come over and play “Las Mañanitas,” a Mexican birthday song, for McCain.  

“We had a great time and got really close after that,” says Espinoza, now president and CEO of Raza Development Fund Inc., the largest Latino community development financial institution in America. “Every now and then you meet a special person in your life. John wasn’t perfect, but he was genuine. I thank God that he was in my life.”

with longtime friend and godfather to his youngest son, Tommy EspinozaMcCain asked Espinoza, a Democrat, to co-chair his successful U.S. Senate race in 1986. They stayed close friends, and Espinoza is godfather to McCain’s youngest son, Jimmy.


Love him or loathe him, McCain turned ribbing into an art form. His teasing – which often carried a sailor’s grasp of the profane – was a sign of affection. The more he busted your chops, the more he liked you. Jeff Flake, Arizona’s junior senator, was one of McCain’s favorite targets in recent years.

“At every campaign stop when I was running for the Senate, he would say, ‘If I looked like Jeff, I’d be president,’” Flake recalls, laughing at the jibe about his youthful looks. “He teased me endlessly that I would have never got elected if I didn’t have so many cousins across Arizona.”

Valley political consultant Chuck Coughlin, one of McCain’s first hires on the 1986 Senate campaign, never grew tired of hearing the senator playfully taunt him with this one-liner: “Bringing you to Arizona was the worst mistake of my career.”

Critics liked to pigeonhole McCain as a one-dimensional military man, but he was complex. He could launch a fusillade of verbal attacks on the floor of the U.S. Senate and spar with the media, but then spend hours posing for pictures and signing autographs for everyday folks at the Grand Canyon who wanted a minute (or more) of his time. The McCain dichotomy.

“He taught me that we need to be civil to each other,” Flake says. “Sure, it sounds a bit ironic, because he’s known for having a short fuse. But he taught us all that there’s a cause greater than politics. We talked about that for a long time, just the two of us, as we sat on his porch at his cabin.”

It was one of Flake’s last conversations with his colleague and friend.

the McCain clan at the Republican National Convention, 2008McCain’s inner voice of authenticity distinguished him from many politicians whose noble stands would quickly evaporate after Election Day. But, at times, he could take the politically expedient path to win elections – choosing a tough-sounding, partisan soundbite to win over skeptics of his party. He had fought for bipartisan immigration reform but abandoned that pledge in a 2010 GOP primary when faced with a stiff, conservative challenge. His red meat TV ad to “complete the danged fence” placated enough of the border security hawks of the Republican base. He easily won re-election.

But somehow, some way, he would always come back to his maverick ways. McCain’s last vote in Congress – a dramatic “thumbs down” on the Senate floor to oppose the repeal of the Affordable Care Act – is plucked right out of a Hollywood drama. McCain voted his conscience, feeling that a repeal of the law without a replacement could leave too many people twisting in the wind. Republican Party leaders were peeved; McCain didn’t care.

Did he really deserve the maverick moniker? Will he have any long-lasting impact on Arizona, international affairs or human rights? Those debates will rage for years, but McCain will always be the personification of perseverance. Public challenges and imperfections marked nearly every step of his life: surviving an unthinkably brutal POW camp during the Vietnam War. Divorce. The Keating Five scandal that almost derailed his career. Two unsuccessful presidential campaigns. His controversial pick of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.

Yet, he kept picking himself off the canvas, like any good pugilist. It’s no surprise he wrestled out of his weight class in high school.

“He created a lot of his own problems – like we all do – but he owned up to his shortcomings,” says Coughlin, part of the McCain political tree. “That’s tough in private life, but it’s absolutely brutal in public life. Most of us get knocked down once and give up. John McCain would keep getting up.”  

Bettina Nava experienced McCain’s peripatetic style during several political tours of duty. Nava started with McCain as a low-level legislative aide during her college days and worked her way up to serve on two presidential campaigns and two Senate campaigns and become his Arizona state director. Nava said McCain never quite grasped the concept of being “off the clock.” She might get a call from Arizona’s senior senator on a Friday night while she was out to dinner with friends. Sometimes he was calling from war zones or other remote locales.

The typical call would begin: “Bettina! What the hell is going on in Arizona? Tell me everything.”

Nava quickly learned that she not only had to keep up with his grueling schedule, but also had to keep track of the Arizona sports scene like an ESPN anchor. McCain, a sports fanatic, wanted to kibitz about the latest game – a Diamondbacks playoff run, the Coyotes power play or how many catches Larry Fitzgerald had against an NFC West rival. In fact, McCain would rather hang with Fitzgerald, Coyotes star Shane Doan and World Series hero Luis “Gonzo” Gonzalez than with most of his fellow politicians.

For Nava, another McCain narrative stands out, something that he never publicized, but did because it was the right thing to do. He loved working with strong women and people from diverse backgrounds. In his own way, Nava says, McCain was a feminist.

“He elevated dozens of women and made sure they had decision-making power,” Nava says. “He had a lot of female chiefs of staff and state directors. He never talked about it. He just did it. I literally owe my entire career to him.”

The McCain sphere of influence empowered many talented men and women whose passion and gratitude will always run deep for their old boss and his impact on their lives.

“I’ve never met anyone who loved their country more,” says Nava, fighting back tears. “We’ll never lose him because his words and actions are forever imprinted on our lives. He was a disciple of this great experiment we call democracy, and he defended it like no one I have ever met.”

 

HIS LIFE IN TIMELINE
1936
1936

John Sidney McCain III is born on August 29, 1936, at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in Panama to John S. McCain Jr. and Roberta McCain. Both his father and paternal grandfather, John S. McCain Sr., would serve as four-star U.S. Navy admirals.

1941-1953
The quintessential Navy brat, McCain moves around the world, attending roughly 20 schools. During World War II, his father serves as a submarine commander in the Pacific Theater.

1954
1954

A self-described “punk,” McCain graduates from Episcopal High School in Virginia. Following in the family footsteps, he enrolls at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

1958
Like his father, McCain is a defiant cadet and marginal student, graduating with a low class rank (894 of 899) despite a high IQ. He develops a taste for boxing and rabble-rousing.  

1960
Ensign McCain drives a Corvette and dates “Marie the Flame of Florida” as a hard-partying flight student in Pensacola, Florida. Trained to fly ground attack aircraft, he serves aboard the USS Intrepid in the Caribbean.

1961-1964
Initially rated as a reckless, subpar flier, McCain crashes in two flight missions and clips power lines in another.

1965
On July 3, 1965, a chilled-out McCain marries Philadelphia model and single mom Carol Shepp, adopting her two young sons. They have a daughter, Sidney, together.

19671967
Two months after beginning combat duty in the Vietnam War, McCain narrowly survives when explosions rip through the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal. He sustains numerous fragment wounds.

On October 26, 1967, McCain’s A-4E Skyhawk is shot down during his 23rd bombing mission. Ejected from the aircraft, he suffers broken arms and a broken leg, and is beaten by North Vietnamese who drag him from Hanoi’s Truc Bach Lake.

1968
In March 1968, McCain is transferred from the “Hanoi Hilton” to another prison in the outskirts of the city. Citing military code, he refuses early repatriation ahead of other POWs when his captors learn his father is an admiral.

Beginning in August, McCain is subjected to a program of routine torture and beating by the Viet Cong, who extract an anti-U.S. propaganda statement. He considers suicide.

1969-1973
Beginning in 1969, Viet Cong treatment of POWs improves marginally. McCain is finally granted release on March 14, 1973. His injuries render him permanently incapable of lifting his arms above his head.

1974-19771974-1977
A rehabilitated McCain regains his flight status and commands a training squadron in Florida; later, he serves as the Navy’s political liaison to the U.S. Senate, launching his political career.

1979
McCain meets Arizona beverage heiress Cindy Hensley during a trip to Hawaii in April 1979; the following April, his wife Carol grants him an uncontested divorce. He marries Cindy within a month.

1981
His prospects of an admiralship dimming, Captain McCain retires from the Navy with the Silver Star, two Legion of Merit awards and other decorations. He moves to Arizona to work at his father-in-law’s distributorship.

1982
With the backing of Fife Symington III and other powerful Republicans, McCain runs for U.S. Congress representing the East Valley (CD1) and wins a hard-fought primary, later coasting to victory in the general.

1984
The McCains have their first child together, Meghan. Two sons, John IV and James, would follow, along with adopted daughter Bridget.

1986
McCain defeats Democratic state legislator Richard Kimball to claim Barry Goldwater’s open seat in the U.S. Senate.

1989
The freshman senator is implicated in the Keating Five scandal for intervening on behalf of donor Charles Keating with federal regulators, but is later cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee.

1994
With Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, McCain authors the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill – arguably the beginning of his “maverick Republican” persona.

19991999
McCain’s memoir, Faith of My Fathers, hits bookshelves. Telling the story of his family’s naval history and his own POW experience, it becomes a best-seller.

2000
Smeared by George W. Bush-affiliated propaganda – including untrue allegations about his service record – presidential hopeful McCain runs aground in the South Carolina primary.  

2001
Following the September 11 attacks, McCain co-founds the 9/11 Commission and supports the subsequent U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

2005
McCain leads the so-called Gang of 14, a bipartisan caucus that helps preserve filibuster power over judicial nominees; he also speaks out against “enhanced” methods of interrogation in the War on Terror.

2008
McCain bests Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, among others, to win the GOP presidential nomination; controversially selects Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Loses by 7 points on Election Day.

2010
Buffeted by conservative opposition to President Obama, McCain tacks to the right and takes a harder line against immigration and repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Wins fourth Senate term.

2013
Return of the maverick: McCain rankles the establishment by opposing the GOP-led U.S. government shutdown and Obamacare defunding.

2016
Withdraws support for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump after Access Holly- wood scandal. Easily wins sixth Senate term over Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick; calls for stronger sanctions against Russia.

2017
Receives devastating diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor on July 19, 2017; less than two weeks later, delivers the decisive Senate vote to kill the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare.

20182018
On August 24, the McCain family announces that the senator will halt treatment of his cancer; he passes the next day at his home in Cornville. His death inspires an international outpouring of grief and sympathy.

On August 29 – McCain’s birthday – Gov. Doug Ducey and Senator Jeff Flake, among others, speak at his memorial at the Arizona State Capitol. Later in the week, his body is flown to Washington, D.C., to lie in state at the Capitol – one of only three dozen or so Americans accorded that honor.

On September 1, McCain is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery alongside his Academy classmate and friend Admiral Charles R. Larson.