Mourners gather for Arizona church service for McCain

PHOENIX — People waved American flags and campaign-style signs along the side of the road Thursday as a motorcade carrying Sen. John McCain’s body traveled from the state Capitol to a church for a second day of memorial services for the maverick politician, former prisoner of war and two-time presidential candidate.

Family members watched in silence as uniformed military members removed the senator’s flag-draped casket from the black hearse and carried it into the North Phoenix Baptist for a commemoration featuring Vice President Joe Biden and other dignitaries.

As the hearse made its way along the 8-mile route, people held signs that read simply “McCain” and cars on the other side of the highway stopped or slowed to a crawl in apparent tribute.

A few firefighters saluted from atop a fire engine parked on an overpass when the 11-vehicle motorcade with a 17-motorcycle police escort passed underneath on Interstate 17.

McCain died Saturday of brain cancer at 81.

The crowd of 3,500 inside the church stood silently as the casket was placed before a set of floral arrangements and McCain’s family entered behind it.

Biden, 24 sitting U.S. senators, four former senators and other leaders attended the memorial.

During Wednesday’s private service at the Capitol for family and friends, Cindy McCain pressed her face against her husband’s coffin, and daughter Meghan McCain erupted in sobs.

McCain sons Doug, Jack and Jimmy, daughter Sidney and daughter-in-law Renee shook hands with some of the thousands of people who filed past the senator’s flag-draped casket to pay their final respects.

About 1,000 seats for Thursday’s church service were made available to members of the public who signed up.

Michael Fellars was among those awaiting the motorcade outside the church. The Marines veteran said he was also the fourth person in line Wednesday to attend the public viewing at the Capitol.

“He was about the only politician that I have ever known who cared for the people in his country, and he tried his level best to make it a better place in which to live,” Fellars said.

Honor guard member Valentine Costalez praised McCain for championing the military during his Senate career.

“He’s done so much for us,” said Costalez, who stood watch earlier this week while McCain’s body was at a funeral home.

A choir from the Jesuit-run Brophy College Preparatory school that two of McCain’s sons attended sang “Amazing Grace” and “Arizona” during the church service.

The music chosen for the recession was Frank Sinatra’s signature song, “My Way,” paying tribute to a man who became known for following his own path based on his personal principles.

The much smaller service at the Capitol was filled with affecting moments and demonstrations of deep respect for the statesman and Navy pilot who was held prisoner by the North Vietnamese for 5½ years after being shot down over Hanoi.

Gov. Doug Ducey remembered McCain as “Arizona’s favorite adopted son” on what would have been his 82nd birthday.

The Capitol was then opened to the public in the afternoon, allowing visitors to walk past the closed casket after waiting in line outside in temperatures that reached 104 degrees.

Inside, former military members in shorts and T-shirts saluted. Others placed their hand over their heart or bowed, including Vietnamese-born residents who traveled from Southern California.

Ray Riordan, an 87-year-old Navy veteran who fought in the Korean War, came from Payson, Arizona.

“I grew up where a handshake was a contract and your word was your bond,” Riordan said. “He represented the last of that as far as I’m concerned.”

The McCain family said about 15,000 people in all came to pay their respects at the Capitol.

After Thursday’s church service, a military aircraft was scheduled to take McCain’s body back east for a lying-in-state at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, a service at the Washington National Cathedral on Saturday, and burial at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

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