Final respects and tributes were paid on Friday to John McCain, a national icon, in the US Capitol as part of a momentous send-off for the war veteran and statesman.
The McCain’s family – Cindy, his seven children and his mother, Roberta McCain who is 106 years old – joined members of the congress, state governors, diplomats and other dignitaries to bid the senator farewell.
The last visit to Washington by McCain — who died last Saturday at age 81 after a yearlong battle with cancer — is being spread out over two days with former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to eulogize him during a memorial service Saturday at the city’s National Cathedral.
Just before 11:00 am (1500 GMT) Friday, a military honour guard carried the flag-draped casket up the Capitol stairs, moving one deliberate step at a time, while inside the Rotunda dark-suited mourners stood at silent attention.
President Donald Trump, who had feuded bitterly with McCain, was notably absent from the somber ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, an honour accorded to just 30 Americans throughout the nation’s history.
Vice President Mike Pence — who represented Trump at the ceremony — began his tribute with an address to McCain’s family, and particularly his mother. Pence was joined by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“It is deeply humbling to stand before you today at the United States Capitol to commemorate the life and service of an American patriot, senator John McCain,” Pence said.
“The president asked me to be here, on behalf of a grateful nation, to pay a debt of honor and respect to a man who served our country throughout his life, in uniform and in public office.”
Guests included former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, riding in a wheelchair at age 95; the actor Warren Beatty, a McCain friend; and former senator Joe Lieberman, who in 2008 McCain came close to naming as his running mate.
McCain, a former aviator spent more than five years in a Vietnamese prison camp. He returned home to launch a political career that saw him win the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
McCain will be laid to rest on Sunday at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Before his death, McCain planned his funeral service in advance. He made clear the US president Trump ia not welcomed, in what was seen as a final rebuke to Trump.
Their feud took root during Trump’s 2016 campaign when he questioned the notion McCain was a war hero — because he had been captured after his Navy fighter jet was shot down over Hanoi in 1967.
The enmity was clear in the fracas this week over whether the White House would keep its flags at half staff in McCain’s honor — which Trump finally agreed to do under heavy pressure from politicians, veterans groups and reportedly his own aides.
Trump was unusually quiet in the White House on Friday, not tweeting during the McCain ceremony, then departing for a political event in North Carolina.