U.S. Senator John McCain dies at 81

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(NBC News)

Scott Young, Staff Reporter


Former Senator from Arizona and 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain died Saturday evening after roughly a year-long battle with brain cancer. He was 81 and only four days shy of his 82nd birthday.

In a statement from his office, it was announced McCain passed away at 4:28 p.m. local time at his home in Cornville, Arizona, one day after it was announced that he would discontinue treatment for cancer.

McCain began his service to the country following his graduation from the United States Naval Academy, where he was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy. His first combat assignment was to an aircraft carrier where he flew A-4 Skyhawks over North Vietnam during Operation Rolling Thunder, which was an eight-week air campaign designed to impair Vietnam.

While flying his 23rd bombing mission, his aircraft was shot down over Hanoi, Vietnam. After the impact fractured his arms and legs, the North Vietnamese pulled him to shore, bayoneting him and beating his shoulder with a rifle. For the next five and a half years, he would remain a prisoner of war, enduring torturous conditions and receiving minimal care for his injuries. Following McCain’s release from imprisonment, he ended his military service a decorated war hero, receiving two Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Legions of Merits, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, and a Prisoner of War Medal.

McCain began his political career upon exiting the United States Navy. He was elected to serve as a Representative to Arizona’s 1st Congressional district, where he showed strong support for then-President Reagan’s economic and foreign policies.

Four years later, McCain was elected to the United States Senate, where he would serve until his passing on Saturday. Though most of his policies and views were conservative, he was viewed in Washington as a ‘maverick’, or an independent thinker, not afraid to deviate from mainstream conservative thought to vote his conscience. During his term, he fought for campaign finance reform, an end to pork barrel spending, veterans’ benefits, and a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants.

Despite running an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2000, he launched his campaign for the Republican nomination for President in 2008, where he went on to become the nominee. His candidacy faced an uphill battle as much of the electorate aligned McCain with the unpopular, presidency of George Bush. He went on to lose to then-Senator Barack Obama, only achieving 173 electoral votes.

Following news of his death, members of Congress, former Presidents, and celebrities rallied around to pay tribute to Senator McCain.

“He showed us who we are and who we can be when we are at our best,” said Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, “And he devoted his life to service and to the exalted idea of America that was bigger and better than him. Bigger than us all.”

Former President Barack Obama, and his opponent in 2008, took to Twitter to say, “Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means.”

In a raucous political environment, McCain stood out as someone who practiced civility, even when it might have been inconvenient for him. So today, we honor the sacrifice given by McCain and thank him for his decades of service.

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