Maverick politician John McCain dies at 81

Published: Aug. 24, 2018 at 4:52 PM MST|Updated: Aug. 26, 2018 at 12:03 AM MST
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John McCain attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1954. (Source: U.S. Navy).
John McCain attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1954. (Source: U.S. Navy).

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Longtime politician John Sidney McCain II has died at the age of 81.

McCain passed away at 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25 with his wife and family at his side.

Below is a statement from McCain's office.

"Senator John Sidney McCain III died at 4:28pm on August 25, 2018. With the Senator when he passed were his wife Cindy and their family. At his death, he had served the United States of America faithfully for sixty years."

McCain, an American hero to many, was diagnosed with an aggressive and deadly form of brain cancer in July 2017.

"I just said, 'I understand,'" McCain said after the diagnosis. "Now, we're going to do what we can, get the best doctors we can find, and do the best we can. And at the same time, celebrate with gratitude a life well-lived."

McCain is survived by his mother Roberta Wright, wife Cindy Hensley McCain, seven children and five grandchildren.

Funeral services are pending.

READ MORE: McCain's greatest quotes I Tucson Talks: Remembering the Maverick I World reacts to death of McCain

McCain was known as "The Maverick" for his willingness to vote his conscience rather than along party lines.

Recently, his theatrical "thumbs down" vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act garnered him applause from some and scorn from others, including President Donald Trump.

President Trump, then campaigning in 2016, caused an uproar when he said "I like people that weren't captured," referring to McCain's time as a prisoner during the Vietnam war.

People from McCain's inner circle have allegedly told the White House he doesn't want President Trump at his funeral.

McCain's life is full of unforgettable moments and accomplishments.

His lasting legacy will be the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which was passed in 2002.

The act, an attempt to reform campaign contributions, was surprising in how much support it received from Republicans and Democrats. Many parts of the bill, also known as the McCain–Feingold Act, were later struck down by courts.

McCain was born Aug. 29, 1936 at a naval station in Coco Solo, Panama.

His father and grandfather were four-star admiral in the U.S. Navy so it was little surprise McCain followed in their footsteps.

He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1958 and became a naval aviator.

McCain almost died twice while in the Navy.

The first time came in July 1967 when a electrical malfunction caused a rocket to launch from a plane on the flight deck of the USS Forrestal.

During a series of explosions and massive fires, 134 people were killed and another 161 were injured.

McCain, who has dedicated his life to serving others, didn't let the accident stop him.

"I got ten feet away from him and the first bomb exploded," said a man who served with McCain on the Forrestal. "Instead of returning home, he volunteered to stay in Vietnam."

Less than four months after the Forrestal disaster, McCain was shot down over Hanoi while on a bombing mission inside a Skyhawk dive bomber.

He ejected from the plane, which knocked him unconscious and broke both his arms and a leg. He landed in a lake in the corner of the capital of North Vietnam.

McCain was taken prisoner and stayed in the infamous Hanoi Hilton while in captivity for more than five years.

He was given bad medical treatment by the North Vietnamese, which left McCain with lifelong injuries. He spent two years in solitary confinement.

He was released in March 1974 along with others from a POW camp.

After Vietnam, he served in the nation's capital as a naval liaison to the U.S. Senate, a body in which he would later become a fixture.

McCain met Cindy Lou Hensley, a teacher from Phoenix, in April 1979.

The two were married by the end of May 1980.

One year later, McCain retired from the Navy as a captain and moved Arizona. During his service, he was awarded the Sliver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Legion of Merit and Distinguished Flying Cross.

McCain was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982 and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986.

During his first ever campaign, McCain was accused of being a carpetbagger. Critics said he moved to Arizona just to run office.

At the time, he was running a distant third in the polling.

His response was the first of many famous quotes from the legendary politican.

"Listen pal, I spent 22 years in the Navy," McCain said. "My father was in the Navy, my grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world.

"I wish I could have had the luxury, like you of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the 1st District of Arizona but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi."

Many experts claim McCain's reply helped propel him to his first of many victories.

McCain spent four years in the House before running for the Senate.

In 1996, Barry Goldwater announced his retirement. McCain ran for the empty seat and won easily.

The New York Times said McCain "was poised to become a significant figure in national politics."

That future was almost derailed years earlier when Charles Keating, one of McCain's earliest supporter, started pressuring the senator to intercede with federal regulators.

McCain and four other senators convinced the Federal Home Loan Bank Board to drop a regulatory investigation of Keating's company, Lincoln Savings and Loan Association.

In 1989, the collapse of Lincoln Savings and Loan cost taxpayers billions and many people lost their life savings.

The ensuing fallout was severe for the senators, who became known as the "Keating Five."

The senators served the rest of their terms but only McCain and John Glenn, a Democrat from Ohio, were reelected.

McCain said the decision to help Keating was "the worst mistake of my life."

McCain attempted to run for president twice -- in 2000 and 2008.

In 2000, McCain lost the Republican nomination to George W. Bush.

In 2008, McCain won the nomination but lost in the general election to Barack Obama.

It was during this campaign, McCain made one of his most famous retorts.

During a rally in Minnesota, a woman said she couldn't trust Obama because "he's an Arab."

The woman's statement was typical of the accusations against Obama. Many on the right questioned his place of birth and his faith.

McCain wasn't having it and quickly issued his now famous response.

"No ma'am," McCain said of President Obama. "He's a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues."

After losing to Obama by 7.2 points, McCain returned to the Senate and focused on local issues.

One of his biggest victories has been helping save the A-10 Warthog, which the Air Force has been trying to mothball for years.

By keeping the A-10 in the air, McCain also helped keep Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson going.

Davis-Monthan is one of the Old Pueblo's biggest economic drivers, pumping a billion dollars into the economy each year.

McCain's last few years in office have seen a major change in the GOP.

He has been called a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and accused of not being conservative enough.

That is something that has shocked and worried McCain.

"The thing that surprises me the most is the depth of the feeling, the concern, the anger out there," McCain said in a recent interview. "I've not seen anything like this in all the years I've been a member of Congress."

McCain has also spoke out against what the attack on free press, which he called "one of the key pillars of democracy."

In January 2018, President Trump said he was handing out "fake news" to media outlets and personalities.

McCain penned an opinion letter in the Washington Post titled "Mr. President, stop attacking the press."

In the letter, McCain called on President Trump to stop the attacks and take a more active role in protecting press freedom across the world."

"We cannot afford to abdicate America's long-standing role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world," McCain wrote. "Without strong leadership in the White House, Congress must commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression."

McCain has also said all he ever wanted to do in life is serve his county and fellow citizens.

In a career that spanned more than 30 years, he did just that.

"The great honor of my life has been able to work for you in Congress of the United States of America," he said. "I can never adequately express the gratitude I feel to so many of you (who allowed) me to serve."

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