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McCain built life of distinctive service to country

McCain-3

The flag-draped casket of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is carried up the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Washington. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

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Monday, September 3, 2018

Let the record show that John Sidney McCain never quit on his country.

When he nearly died in a fire that killed 134 of his shipmates on an aircraft carrier in the Tonkin Gulf, he went on to fly combat missions.

When he nearly died ejecting out of a plane over North Vietnam, he steeled himself for nearly six heroic years of captivity as an American POW.

When he nearly died from torture in a Hanoi prison, he came home and began a career of service in Congress.

And as he neared death with cancer and its punishing treatment regimen, he railed against a brutal Syrian regime and the excesses of a populist president.

The man had no quit.

He came from an America that believed in the sun-faded ideals of honor and duty. And so he spent the last months of his three decades as U.S. senator making the case for honorable conduct.

In one of America’s dark hours, when the country was beset upon itself, McCain used his last great speech to call on the leaders of this country to stop savaging one another, to start working together.

Who will ever forget McCain’s return to the U.S. Senate last summer that brought every member of that body to their feet to warmly acknowledge him after doctors broke the news he had little time to live?

McCain acted as if the diagnosis were nothing. A trifle. And he had nothing to hide, appearing in public only days after surgery with a newly stitched incision above his left eye.

He was tranquil, good-natured and telling jokes.

Just about every important conference on defense and foreign affairs eagerly sought McCain’s participation because he was so highly respected in that realm.

Many of us perked up when we heard McCain’s thinly veiled criticism of Donald Trump at the 2017 Liberty Medal Award Ceremony. But to go back and read the text is to understand McCain was doing more than rebuking an irresponsible president:

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of Earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

McCain strove to make that point, even in his return to the U.S. Senate. He was putting down a marker at the end, warning us that the rest of the world has not advanced enough for America to abandon global security to the other great powers.

If the John McCain who survived the Hanoi Hilton was not afraid to face death, he was also not afraid to face mistakes.

When the Arizona senator ran the first time for GOP nominee for president in 2000, allegations that he has a violent temper became a serious blight on his candidacy.

He would lose the Republican primary to George W. Bush, and over the years begin to mellow. Decades later, there were still flashes of that old McCain anger, but it had lost its earlier intensity. He had bridled one of his worst impulses.

By the end of his Senate career he had become a voice for comity and bipartisanship, not just calling for civility, but setting the example by reaching across the aisle. He was always first to admit he wasn’t perfect, but nonetheless implored his fellow senators to work in good faith with one another. And they respected him for it.

History will best remember McCain for his 2008 run for president when it was his great misfortune to go up against a political supernova in Barack Obama.

An enduring moment in that race came when one of McCain’s supporters told him, “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him, and he’s not, he’s not — he’s an Arab.”

McCain replied, “No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”

John McCain was a man of sturdy good judgment who was most composed when others were losing their minds. As xenophobia took over Arizona’s political landscape, McCain led a “Gang of Eight” in the U.S. Senate in pursuit of humane immigration reform.

He understood that America could not turn its back on modern immigrants any more than it could disavow its immigrant past.

McCain served his state and his country with integrity and high distinction.

The Arizona Republic

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Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

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