Sen. John McCain, 1936-2018, was Arizona’s senator for more than three decades and twice ran for president.
Nate Kelly,

Shortly after the sun came up on Sunday, Max Fose stepped into this garage in north-central Phoenix, where he keeps signs from old Sen. John McCain’s campaigns.

Fose, 46, picked up a blue one that read, “John McCain US Senate,” and drove the stakes into the ground. Everyone who walked the bridle path or drove Central Avenue in north-central Phoenix would see it. 

After that, Fose drove by the nearby funeral home and saw there were no flags to honor McCain, a former prisoner of war whose campaigns he has long worked for. 

Fose drove to Walmart and scooped up every stick flag on display. At the check-out counter, a line gathered behind him as the woman running the registered rang up each of the small flags. 

The lady behind him asked if he was going to a cemetery. Fose told her the flags were for the funeral home, where McCain rests before a week of planned services in Phoenix and Washington, D.C. 

“She just reached in her pocket and started handing me dollars,” he said. “And the people behind them started handing me dollars.”

The gesture brought him to tears. 

“I think everybody in these times wants to have some connection, and wants to do something to show their respect and love,” Fose said. “And to me, it was a perfect moment of love.” 

He pulled into the funeral home and began lining the street with the flags, which totaled close to $200. He was about halfway done when a stranger showed up and helped put them up. 

Fose, and the wider McCain family, the one that includes the staffers who worked for him at any point in his 36-year political career, has closed ranks and is reflecting on what they have lost.

Bettina Nava, who once worked as state director for McCain, remembers the way McCain reacted to protesters outside his offices one summer: He told her to help him get the group water and cookies to make sure they didn’t get dehydrated.

“I don’t even remember what they were protesting,” Nava said. “If that doesn’t give you an example of what democracy meant to him, I don’t know what does.”

His death has helped reconnect McCain’s former staffers, who liken themselves to the line in “Hotel California,” the old Eagles hit song: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

“He lived his life in the thin space where he understood how delicate democracy is,” Nava said. “I’m hoping (his death) has rejuvenated in me this desire to be involved.”

“I’ve just been crying for two days,” said Deb Gullett, a former McCain chief of staff.

Hearing others who have put McCain yard signs back outside and stories from friends who knew him have helped her deal with the loss.

These are the balms that sooth the extended McCain family — including former staffers, campaign workers and political supporters — as the reality of his death sinks in.

As theformer staffers regroup, the McCain family continues to sketch out their plans for his funeral and services in Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and Annapolis, Maryland.

Gullett’s own favorite McCain story happened in the early 1990s after McCain spoke to Republicans in her home state of Iowa.

About two weeks later, Gullett heard from one of the attendees, a prominent Republican organizer who said she hoped Gullett was fine.

A puzzled Gullett asked McCain what he had told the group.

“He told them I had just gotten out of the Betty Ford Clinic, but I was going to be OK,” she said, remembering his laughter about the remark. “He told that story a hundred times.”

The first official memorial event is Wednesday, when McCain will lie in state at the Arizona state Capitol. 

That begins with a 10 a.m. private ceremony in the Capitol’s rotunda. The participants in the event have not been finalized. The public can pay its respects from 2 to 8 p.m.

According to the organizers, only two people have had similar honors in Arizona. It happened in 2006 for Republican state Sen. Marilyn Jarrett of Mesa and in 1980 for Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens, who lived in Tucson.

On Thursday, a 10 a.m. memorial service marking McCain’s life and legacy is scheduled at North Phoenix Baptist Church. That event is expected to attract national, state and tribal officials, though details of who that includes were not available on Sunday.  

Afterward, a motorcade will transport McCain’s remains from the church to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for his final trip to the nation’s capital. 

McCain will be flown from the 161st Air Refueling Wing, a unit of the Arizona Air National Guard, at Goldwater Air National Guard Base at Sky Harbor.

He is scheduled to arrive at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, four hours later.

On Friday, McCain will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, an honor only 30 others have had in the nation’s history. That event begins with an 8 a.m. ceremony recognizing McCain’s service to the nation. The complete schedule and the participants have not been finalized.

Afterward, the public will have a chance to pay their respects.

On Saturday, McCain will be honored at a service at the National Cathedral in Washington. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the men who defeated McCain during his presidential runs in 2000 and 2008, are scheduled to deliver eulogies.

That event is expected to attract national and international leaders. It will happen at 7 a.m. in Arizona.

On Sunday, McCain will be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in a private ceremony. He will be buried next to his Naval Academy classmate and lifelong friend, Admiral Chuck Larson, who died in 2014 after a decorated career working under several presidents.


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