‘Greatest American hero’ John McCain dies at 81

John McCain, Vietnam War hero, true patriot, two-time presidential candidate and one of the most outspoken, talented and respected senators US Congress has ever seen, died on Saturday after losing his battle to a rare form of brain cancer.

He was 81.

McCain was surrounded by his wife Cindy and rest of the family during his final hours at his home in Cornville.

The Republican senator from Arizona since 1987 was diagnosed with brain cancer in July last year.  He stopped receiving cancer treatment on Friday.

The funeral service will be held at Washington National Cathedral before his burial at the US Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis.

In an increasingly divided nation, McCain was the voice of reason on defence and foreign policy. He followed his ideals and conscience, reached out to all parties and also attacked them.

His fiercely independent views often embarrassed and hurt his own Republican party. He was a critic of President Donald Trump who never forgave him for his decisive vote that foiled the president’s plan to repeal Obamacare.

Moving tributes

Tributes began to flow with Trump expressing his deepest sympathies and respect to McCain’s family.

Defence Secretary James Mattis said the nation has lost a man who represented its best ideals.

In a country which aches for truth-tellers, McCain will be greatly missed, said Republican Senator Ben Sasse.

James Jeffrey, the US special representative to Syria, called McCain the greatest American hero of the last 50 years adding that the Republican stalwart had an insight into America’s role in the world and the way the world worked.

Barack Obama, who defeated McCain in 2008 presidential election, said despite differences, both shared the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants have fought, marched and sacrificed.

Former president Bill Clinton hailed McCain for frequently putting partisanship aside while former vice president Al Gore said the senator always worked hard to find common ground.

Former president George W. Bush described McCain as a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, McCain’s close friend and fellow military officer, said America and Freedom have lost one of her greatest champions.

McCain’s 2008 vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin said he was an American original who, through sacrifice and suffering, inspired others to serve a greater cause.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer called for one of the three buildings housing Senate offices around the Capitol to be renamed in McCain’s memory.

Meghan McCain, the political titan’s daughter, said he was a great fire who burned bright, and she and other family members lived in his light and warmth.

 PoW in Vietnam

McCain served as a navy fighter pilot during the Vietnam War.

He was shot down in 1967 and held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for more than five years. During this period, he was so badly beaten that he could not raise his arms above a certain point.

Returning home after the war, he served the nation in a different way by joining politics. During his 35 years as a senator, his views during debates on defence and world affairs gave a certain direction to the nation. For instance, his engagement with Vietnam helped the US to reshape its relationship with that country.

McCain’s courage, honesty and frankness in expressing his views and occasional outbursts of fury upset many Democrats and Republicans. But none of them felt any personal hatred for him because they all respected him as a man of conviction and integrity.

The best example of his deep conviction was his vote against his own party’s efforts to repeal Obamacare.

Days after a brain surgery in July last year, McCain spoke against partisanship in the Senate. He bluntly told Republicans that it is wrong to undo Obamacare without offering something better for citizens. He then cast his decisive vote that killed Trump’s plan to repeal Obama’s health care reforms.

As a political leader, McCain wanted to serve the best interest of the citizens even if it hurt him politically. Here he was concerned about the fate of over 20 million people who will be deprived of the health cover if the vote goes for Trump’s plan.

Recently, McCain attacked Trump for his soft approach to Russia and North Korea. He described Trump’s show of support for Putin at the recent summit in Helsinki as one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in recent memories.      

Recalling memories from the Vietnam War to his years in the Senate, McCain said it has been quite a ride in a memoir published earlier this year.

“I’ve known great passions, seen amazing wonders, fought in a war and helped make peace. I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times,” he wrote.

This sums up McCain’s life and contribution to his nation.