Mr. President, I rise today to honor our late colleague and friend, Senator John McCain. I want to begin by offering my deepest sympathies to John’s loving wife, Cindy; to his children, Sidney, Meghan, Jack, Jimmy, Bridget, Doug, and Andy; and to that most remarkable woman who shaped his life, his mother, Roberta. Those who knew him knew that, above all else, John was a loving father, devoted husband, and a dedicated family man. Today we mourn with the entire McCain family. I would like at this time to take a few moments to reflect on his heroic legacy. When I think of John McCain, two words come to mind: courage and sacrifice. As the son and grandson of decorated naval officers, the desire to serve his country ran deep in John. Following in their footsteps, he graduated from the Naval Academy and went on to serve his country in Vietnam.
The events that followed, including his bravery facing unrelenting anti-aircraft fire, being shot down, captured, and held in horrific conditions, have become military legend. His indomitable spirit carried him through his years of imprisonment, but his willingness to sacrifice for his fellow servicemembers should be a testament to all of his courage and sacrifice. As everyone knows well, John endured grueling hardship throughout his captivity. On courage, he so eloquently explained: ‘‘Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fears.’’ At one point during his captivity, John made what I can only imagine to be one of the most difficult decisions of his life. He was offered special treatment and release due to his family’s military prominence, but he refused. He stated that he would not accept release until all the prisoners of war taken before him were also released. To put his comrades and his country before his own welfare, especially when confronted with a future of uncertainty and abuse, is the most profound example of his willingness to sacrifice his life for others. John spent more than 5 years in captivity at the Hanoi Hilton, but rather than allowing the horrors of the experience to continue to color his life, he instead returned to the Navy for several years before beginning a career in business. Not long after, he again heeded the call to service and won a seat in the House of Representatives representing Arizona.
The first indication that Senator McCain would be an outspoken leader and staunch defender of servicemembers came when, as a freshman member of the House, he opposed legislation supported by President Reagan to keep marines in Lebanon. He refused to further endanger servicemembers for an objective that he viewed as unattainable. It took political courage and conviction for John to stand up to a man he has called one of his heroes and oppose him on principle. This willingness to stand by his convictions and speak his mind, no matter the perception, would become a hallmark of Senator John McCain. First in the House, then in the Senate, and on the Presidential campaign trail with the aptly named ‘‘Straight Talk Express,’’ John was renowned for the candid expression of his thoughts and steadfast defense of his principles. While John and I served for many years together in the Senate, I was fortunate to work most closely with him during the past 4 years when he was chairman of the Armed Services Committee and I was the ranking member. Our pairing could be rocky at times, not because he was a Republican and I was a Democrat but because he went to the Naval Academy and I went to West Point. As John often joked, I did OK for someone who didn’t have a college education. Thank you, John.
In all seriousness, Senator McCain’s leadership was vital in shepherding through Congress numerous National Defense Authorization Acts that have substantively reformed the Department of Defense, improved care for servicemembers, and increased the capacity of our military to meet the myriad national security challenges we face. Throughout his life, Senator McCain was a steadying force through turbulent times in global affairs. The threats to our national security and the stability of the global order are more numerous and diverse now than at any point in our recent history. As we grapple with these challenges, we should remember John’s guidance: ‘‘We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad.’’ He believed in an America that is united by values, not divided by manufactured distrust and animus. Most importantly, he emphasized the moral obligation that we, as Americans, carry to provide leadership in the world and serve as a beacon of hope, opportunity, and justice, both here and across the globe.
As a further reflection, I was always impressed by John’s respect for colleagues who were committed to principle but who sought principled compromise. This respect animated our relationship and made it possible to find common ground. Finally, what ultimately motivated John McCain, I believe, was the knowledge that thousands and thousands of Americans in uniform were protecting this Nation. He understood that we owed these men and women and their families more than we could ever really pay. He always kept faith with these valiant Americans and inspired all of us here to keep that faith. As our sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen guarded our country and Constitution, he guarded them with a special and profound love. I will miss Senator McCain’s partnership and friendship, and this Chamber will be hard pressed to find a more respected voice of reason and bipartisanship. It is my hope that we can follow in the footsteps of the virtues that Senator John McCain exemplified: courage, sacrifice, compassion, determination, and, above all else, an unyielding patriotism that motivated a lifetime of service. We can best honor Senator McCain by living our lives by the example he set. I yield the floor.<