Emily Klose/Voices | Paying respects to an American patriot

Emily Klose/Voices | Paying respects to an American patriot


I was driving to Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Aug. 25, when I heard that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had died of brain cancer. The purpose of my trip to D.C. was to put my daughter on a plane at Dulles International Airport so she could spend the first semester of her junior year in college in Brussels. So I did just that on Tuesday, Aug. 28, the day before McCain would lie in state at the Arizona State Capitol, and three days before he'd lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda in D.C.

My husband, a combat veteran during the Vietnam War, had revered McCain for the sacrifices he'd made for America and the American people. So I decided to stay in D.C. and pay my respects to McCain.

On Friday, Aug. 31, at 1:03 p.m., I joined the line for McCain's public viewing, standing for two and a half hours under the blazing sun as the line inched toward the air-conditioned indoor splendor of the Capitol building. No quarter was given to anyone in that line, not veterans, not the elderly, not parents with young children, not even the three frail ladies who were dressed in outfits signifying their status as Gold Star Wives of America.

McCain, a 1958 graduate of Annapolis Naval Academy, was a less than stellar student who finished near the bottom of his class before embarking on a freewheeling career as a naval aviator.

During a 1967 mission over North Vietnam, McCain was shot down. Captured. Beaten. Tortured. Starved. Bones broken multiple times. Caged for months in solitary confinement. Released in 1973 after five and a half years as a POW, McCain returned to the U.S., physically broken and battered, yet inexplicably ready for the next chapter in his life, which would include a 36-year career as a politician and statesman.

As that outdoor line I was part of crawled inexorably toward the Capitol, I began to observe many Vietnamese people standing in the sweltering heat. Many held umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun. One group held signs, in English and in Vietnamese, that read "We, the Vietnamese Political Prisoners' Children, Will Never Forget the Man Who Saved Our Lives — Sen. John McCain."

Standing near one group of Vietnamese people was a detachment of U.S. Navy sailors, smartly turned out in their crisp white uniforms. And interspersed throughout the line were many high-level military officers, standing quietly in their dress uniforms, medals adorning their chests, never mind the humidity. Every so often, Red Cross personnel handed out warm bottles of water to people in the crowd who seemed most in danger of fainting. Some people did pass out, in fact, which was one way to get the attention of nearby first responders.

Once inside the Capitol, we the people were giddy with relief that we had not succumbed to heat stroke or dehydration. We continued our slow march along marble floors, up flights of stairs, down corridors, around corners until finally, after another one and a half hours of baby steps, we stood in silence in the Rotunda, gazing upon McCain's flag-draped casket.

Two days earlier, at Arlington National Cemetery, I had watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. On Friday, Aug. 31, I was privileged to witness that moving ceremony once more in front of McCain's casket. Memories of my own husband's military funeral came flooding back as I struggled to retain my composure.

Shortly, my reverie was interrupted by a request to "move on down" so a VIP could pay his respects. The VIP was Rudolph Giuliani, looming large in his voluminous suit as he lumbered up to the casket, made the sign of the cross in front of it, touched it briefly with his right hand, then beat a hasty retreat as C-SPAN caught the moment for posterity.

I looked hard, but I didn't see any sign that President Trump was piggyback riding on Giuliani, just so he could say he'd honored the Maverick after all.

I exited the Capitol Building just after 5 p.m., one of the fortunate few who scored a memorial card for John Sidney McCain III on my way out. Four hours versus five and a half years — that seems like a fair way to honor an American patriot.

Emily Klose lives in Champaign.