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DENVER — Colorado leaders and close friends of Sen. John McCain are reflecting on his distinguished life.

A former ambassador and former senator said they admired McCain on so many levels — for his bravery as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and also because he wasn’t afraid to reach across party lines.

“He was great fun to be with. Very keen sense of humor and a wonderful traveling companion and friend,” former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart said.

Hart stood beside McCain as a groomsmen in his wedding, and now, after a lifetime of memories, he’s preparing to escort the casket at his funeral.

“I was honored when he married Cindy in 1980. I was one of the groomsmen,” Hart said.

Hart and McCain traveled together on military missions when McCain was a U.S. Navy liaison. Even though they shared different political party views, Hart said McCain is a hero to him.

“I didn’t think of him as a ‘maverick.’ I saw him as an independent individual who made up his own mind and did not just do what party leadership told him,” Hart said.

Ambassador Chris Hill was in the hot seat when he met McCain. Hill was interviewing to become the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

“He kind of grilled me on what I knew about Iraq and it was not pleasant,” Hill said.

But Hill ended up securing the position, and once an ambassador, he became friends with McCain, hosting him on several trips to the Middle East.

“One time he got off the plane and said to me, ‘Chris, I want to go to the red zone, not just the green zone. Can we get out to the red zone?’ And indeed, I convinced our security people to take him out there, so he could really see what life was like for Iraqis and frankly to see some of the improvement of life in Iraq,” Hill said.

Hill and Hart said they are better men just for knowing McCain.

Hill said years after his intense interview, McCain put his arm around his shoulder and apologized for being so tough.

Hart said he is honored to be a pallbearer for McCain’s funeral.