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After moving Arizona service, McCain's casket arrives in Washington

Joe Biden recalled “the sheer joy that crossed his face when he knew he was about to take the stage of the Senate floor and start a fight.”
Image: McCain Casket DC
The flag-draped casket of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is carried by an Armed Forces body bearer team to a hearse, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md on Aug. 30, 2018.Alex Brandon / AP

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain's casket arrived in Maryland ahead of ceremonies Friday at the U.S. Capitol.

McCain was flown to Joint Base Andrews outside Washington after a church service Thursday in Phoenix. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis greeted McCain's widow, Cindy, and their children on the base tarmac.

The six-term Republican senator from Arizona will lie in state under the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Friday for a ceremony and public visitation.

Earlier Thursday, McCain was eulogized as a “true American hero” — and a terrible driver with a wicked sense of humor and love of a good battle — at a crowded church service for the maverick politician that ended with the playing of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”

Addressing an estimated 3,500 mourners, former Vice President Joe Biden recalled “the sheer joy that crossed his face when he knew he was about to take the stage of the Senate floor and start a fight.”

Biden, a Democrat who was among the fast friends the Republican senator made across the aisle, said he thought of McCain as a brother, “with a lot of family fights.”

Cindy McCain, wife of late Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, walks with Secretary of Defense James Mattis and members of her family after arriving at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, on August 30, 2018.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

The service for the statesman, former prisoner of war and two-time presidential candidate unfolded at North Phoenix Baptist Church after a motorcade bearing McCain’s body made its way from the state Capitol past Arizonans waving American flags and campaign-style McCain signs.

Family members watched in silence as uniformed military members removed the flag-draped casket from a black hearse and carried it into the church. McCain died last Saturday of brain cancer at 81.

McCain’s longtime chief of staff Grant Woods, a former Arizona attorney general, drew laughs with a eulogy in which he talked about McCain’s “terribly bad driving” and his sense of humor, which included calling the Leisure World retirement community “Seizure World.”

Woods also recalled the way McCain would introduce him to new staff members by saying, “You’ll have to fire half of them.”

The flag-draped casket of the late U.S. Senator John McCain arrives at the North Phoenix Baptist Church for the memorial service honoring McCain, Aug. 30, 2018 in Phoenix.Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images

The church’s senior pastor, Noe Garcia, pronounced McCain “a true American hero.”

The service brought to a close two days of mourning for the six-term senator and 2008 GOP presidential nominee in his home state.

A motorcade then took McCain’s body to the airport, where it was put aboard a military plane that took off for Washington. On Saturday, a procession was scheduled to pause at the Vietnam Memorial before a service at the Washington National Cathedral. Burial at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, was scheduled to take place Sunday.

Twenty-four sitting U.S. senators and four former senators attended the church service, according to McCain’s office.

Neither Biden nor other speakers uttered President Donald Trump’s name in Phoenix, but Biden made what some saw as a veiled reference to the president when he talked about McCain’s character and how he parted company with those who “lacked the basic values of decency and respect, knowing this project is bigger than yourself.”

Former U.S. vice president Joe Biden speaks during the memorial service for the late U.S. Senator John McCain at the North Phoenix Baptist Church, Aug. 30, 2018 in Phoenix.Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images

Biden said McCain “could not stand the abuse of power wherever he saw it, in whatever form, in whatever country.”

Dabbing his eyes at times, Biden also referred to his own son’s death from cancer, saying of the disease, “It’s brutal, it’s relentless, it’s unforgiving.” And he spoke directly to McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, in the front row: “You were his ballast.”

At the end of the nearly 90-minute ceremony, McCain’s casket was wheeled out of the church to “My Way,” in tribute to a politician known for following his own path based on his personal principles.

McCain clashed openly with Trump, who mocked McCain for getting captured during the Vietnam War. Two White House officials said McCain’s family had asked that Trump not attend the funeral services.

The Phoenix memorial was laced with humor and featured a racially and ethnically diverse roster of speakers and other participants.

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is black, talked about his unlikely connection with McCain, a big fan of the state’s sports teams.

“While from very different worlds, we developed a meaningful friendship,” said Fitzgerald, adding that McCain didn’t judge others on their skin color, gender or bank account but on their character.

Members of the military carry the flag-draped casket of the late US Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, after arriving on a military airplane at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, on August 30, 2018.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

As the 11-vehicle motorcade with a 17-motorcycle police escort made its way toward the church, people along the 8-mile (13-kilometer) route 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 as the motorcade passed underneath on Interstate 17.

One man shouted, “We love you!”

On Wednesday, a private service was held at the Arizona Capitol for family and friends, after which an estimated 15,000 people filed past the senator’s casket to pay their final respects.

On Thursday, Michael Fellars was among those awaiting the motorcade outside the church. The Marine veteran said he was also the fourth person in line to attend the viewing at the state Capitol for McCain, a Navy pilot held prisoner by the North Vietnamese for 5½ years after being shot down over Hanoi.

“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.