Late U.S. senator John McCain, longtime politician and Vietnam War veteran, died of cancer Saturday — one day after deciding to end all medical treatment. He was 81.
McCain was diagnosed in 2017 with glioblastoma, an aggressive and rare type of brain cancer. He decided to end treatment due to “the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age,” according to a released statement from McCain’s family.
“I have often observed that I am the luckiest person on Earth. I feel that way even now as I prepare for the end of my life,” McCain wrote in his final statement. “I’ve loved my life, all of it.”
McCain served his country for 23 years in the navy, as a U.S. representative for two terms and as Senator up until his death. He also ran for president twice — once against former president George Bush in the 2000 primary election and the other opposing former president Barack Obama in the 2012 general election.
During his time as a prisoner in the Vietnam War, McCain was given the option to leave the prisoner camp early, but he refused, choosing instead to remain with his fellow captured soldiers. President Donald Trump — who deferred deployment to Vietnam five times — was criticized heavily for saying McCain was “not a war hero.”
“He was an American hero and deserves to be honored,” said campus American politics lecturer Terri Bimes. “He’s given his life to public service.”
As a politician, McCain had a history of supporting pro-war policies, saying the United States should “bomb, bomb, bomb” Iran — referencing the Beach Boys’ similarly sounding “Barbara Ann.” He also advocated for military intervention in, among others, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq — the latter of which he admitted was a mistake in his memoir.
Ted Lempert, a political science lecturer and former politician, said McCain was a conservative with principles, “willing to put the country ahead of politics.” He called McCain’s death a “problem” for the Republican party, with few of the party’s politicians willing to challenge Trump’s administration with the same “forcefulness” as McCain.
McCain worked across the political aisle to advocate for campaign finance reform with former democratic U.S. senator Russell Feingold and immigration reform alongside former democratic U.S. senator Ted Kennedy. He also voted to save Obama’s Affordable Care Act in 2017.
“We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates,” McCain said in his final statement. “But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement.”
UC President Janet Napolitano, who worked with McCain during her time as Arizona governor and Homeland Security secretary, extended condolences to the senator’s friends and family in a press release.
The flag between California Hall and Valley Life Sciences Building on campus is being flown half-mast to honor McCain, said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.
In his final statement, McCain seemed to have taken a hit at Trump, saying it is when Americans hide behind walls, not tear them down, that the United States loses its “greatness.”
Following a cross-country funeral procession, McCain’s body will be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery, close to one of his longtime friends. He would have turned 82 on Wednesday.
“Farewell fellow Americans,” McCain said in his final statement. “God bless you, and God bless America.”