TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - It was a somber Saturday night at the American Legion Post 59, off of Grande and Erie, on the west side of Tucson. Several veterans inside met up to socialize, not knowing they would be together when the news broke of Senator John McCain's passing.
"He was my idol. He still is my idol. I can't believe we lost him," a fellow Vietnam veteran, Robert Aguirre, spoke very fondly of the Maverick when he heard what had happened.
Aware of McCain's cancer struggles, Aguirre hoped McCain would continue to be the strong survivor he proved himself to be throughout the rest of his life. Aguirre spent two tours in Vietnam. He can relate to some of the struggles McCain faced in the military, and admires the man for those he didn't encounter himself.
"No one can replace his five years in MIA. The torture that he had to go through; he still comes out, and still represents us."
Aguirre was with Joe Vidal Saturday evening. When Vidal learned of McCain's death, he immediately rushed outside the building to lower his flag to half staff. "He's a hero to us. That's it. He's a hero to us. He didn't care right from wrong. He knew right from wrong," he said.
Vidal said he didn't even wait for Governor Doug Ducey's orders to lower flags across the state. He just did what he felt was right. "I'm very sad. But I'm also proud to he served in the service. He's a maverick."
The same sentiments are shared by TJ Mariano. The west side American Legion is her post. Mariano's favorite quality about McCain -- that he never backed down. "In my heart, he stood up for what he believed."
The impact the senator had on her life is immeasurable. "He gives me strength to believe in myself and believe that no matter what, we have the power and if you believe in yourself, you'll bring people together.That's what John McCain did for me."
All of these veterans said they'll remember the Maverick for the sacrifices he made in the service, and for his devotion and commitment to the United States, especially those in the state of Arizona. As these veterans wrapped up their Saturday night conversations, they made it clear John McCain is a staple to the Grand Canyon state.