If you haven’t been to see it before, you might wonder what John McCain’s gravesite is like. Much like the man himself, his gravestone is upright and straightforward. Unlike McCain, it doesn’t say much – John McCain had plenty to say – especially during his time in the United States Congress.
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John Sidney McCain III was born on August 29, 1936, in Distrito de Colón, Colón, Panama, where his father was stationed at the time. He died of brain cancer on August 25, 2018, at the age of 81 in Cornville, Arizona.
His father and grandfather were both United States four-star admirals, a rank achieved by only 271 Naval officers in U.S. history. These were big shoes to fill, and while McCain III also graduated from the United States Naval Academy and served in the U.S. Navy, his career path was his own.
Who is John McCain?
Until his death in 2018, U.S. Senator McCain was often in the political spotlight. He was a Republican but not one who played the partisan game. He had no problem “crossing party lines” if he disagreed with Republican legislation.
But his story begins long before he became a member of the Senate. Early on in his life, he showed his firm resolve in doing what was right rather than what was easy.
If you don’t know much about John McCain, read on to find out why he’s considered an American hero. It doesn’t matter what political party you support; it’s hard not to be impressed by this man who served his country most of his life.
If you’re interested in visiting famous graves, his gravesite is definitely worth your time when you’re in Annapolis, Maryland, or the surrounding area.
From U.S. Navy to Congress
During his run for U.S. President, McCain was known as a “maverick” because he didn’t always follow the Republican party line. He considered both sides of an issue and made his choice from there. But as a student at the United States Naval Academy, he was a maverick for different reasons. He was a trouble-maker and graduated near the bottom of his class.
After graduating from the Naval Academy, though, McCain wanted to be taken seriously. He decided to become a pilot and went on to flight school in Florida. Eventually, he would fight in a war like his father and grandfather had done before him. He joined a squadron in Vietnam in 1966, which would seal his fate.
Crash and capture
During the Vietnam War, McCain’s plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile while he was flying a mission over Hanoi on October 26, 1967. After McCain ejected himself out of the doomed plane, he ended up severely injured even before he landed in the lake below.
ABC News noted that the “sheer force of the ejection broke his right leg and both arms.” Unconscious and weighted down with equipment, he sank to the lake bottom. Being the fighter he was, he got himself to the surface for air and “somehow managed to activate his life preserver with his teeth.”
He was captured almost immediately and taken in as a prisoner of war. McCain spent five and a half years as a POW. He was interrogated, tortured, put in solitary confinement for two years, and suffered the effects of not initially receiving medical care and later receiving inadequate treatment.
Throughout this horrific time, he was offered the opportunity for early release less than a year after his capture. He refused. It didn’t matter how much suffering he’d been through; he followed the POW Code of Conduct. It states that POWs must accept release in the order in which they were captured. For this reason alone, McCain has been considered a war hero.
John McCain’s Burial and Grave
John McCain’s burial location is in the United States Naval Academy Cemetery and Columbarium in Annapolis, Maryland. The USNA Cemetery and Columbarium was established on a peninsula between College Creek and the Severn River. Hundreds of veterans are buried or interred there and have been since the end of the Civil War. The Naval Academy purchased private land in 1868, part of which would become the cemetery.
United States Naval Academy Cemetery and Columbarium
Not just anyone can be buried in the United States Naval Academy Cemetery. Even graduating from the Naval Academy doesn’t guarantee it. Naval Academy graduates on active duty have to attain flag rank to be eligible for ground burial. Naval Academy graduates, though, are all eligible for interment in the Columbarium.
By the time Captain John McCain retired, he had earned the Silver Star and the Legion of Merit, among other service awards.
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Gravestone and inscription
The gravestone of Senator John McCain (which he’ll one day share with his wife) is an upright stone made of gray granite. The name McCain is at the top of the gravestone and above the engraving of the Naval Aviator symbol. Below this is his name and dates (29 August 1936 - 25 August 2018) and his wife Cindy’s name and birthdate to the right.
Like many gravestones, it’s stately but doesn’t stand out among the rest. When you’re looking for it, pay close attention or you might miss it in the midst of the gravestones around it.
Another Memorial for John McCain
You can find memorials online for Senator McCain. You can also find a real-life one in an interesting place linked to his history.
An unlikely memorial in Hanoi
While it’s not a memorial tribute to McCain, there’s a unique monument featuring the man in Hanoi. In fact, it was erected well before his death. The inscription is carved both in Vietnamese and English. It reads: "On 26 October 1967 near Trúc Bạch Lake in the capital, Hanoi, the citizens and military caught Pilot John Sidney McCain. The US Navy Air Force Aviator was flying aircraft A4, which crashed near Yen Phu power station. This was one of ten aircraft shot down that same day."
After his death, people of Hanoi and Americans from the U.S. Embassy held a memorial for the Senator at the monument. It sits near the Trúc Bạch Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam — the lake in which he landed back in 1967 when his plane was shot down during the Vietnam War.
Unprecedented live memorials
While Senator McCain never became the President of the United States, the news coverage of his memorials was even more substantial than those of the most recent Presidents who died (Gerald Ford, 2006, and Ronald Reagan, 2004). The news coverage after their deaths seemed far less in comparison. The question is, “Why would a U.S. senator get more attention than a president?”
The difference is due to the time period. In today’s world, there’s not only television coverage but online coverage on websites and social media. Worldwide connections 24 hours a day make small news large. When the news is bigger, it becomes larger than life.
There were, of course, tributes to Senator McCain at the U.S. Naval Academy and the Washington National Cathedral. While these took place in September of 2018, they can still be read on his website, JohnMcCain.com.
Remembering John McCain
There aren’t many people who are memorialized to the extent as certain famous and well-known people are. Senator John McCain’s funeral and Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s funeral were huge events.
Bryant’s memorial was held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles where his team, the Lakers, play. Senator McCain’s memorial ceremony was attended by 2,000 mourners at the Washington National Cathedral.
When someone well-known dies, the public’s attention will be caught. It can mean that funerals and memorials may be overwhelmed with crowds. It can also mean that the cemetery where they’re buried can be overwhelmed, too. It's very important to follow cemetery etiquette when visiting the gravesites of such people.
- “The key moments in John McCain’s life.” BBC News, 26 August 2018, www.bbc.com
- “John McCain: United States senator.” Britannica, www.britannica.com
- “Why news coverage of John McCain’s death dwarfs funerals of other politicians.” AZCentral, 31 August 2018, azcentral.com
- “What John McCain Went Through as a POW.” ABC News, 20 July 2015, abcnews.go.com
- “As a POW in Vietnam, John McCain refused release until his fellow prisoners were freed, making him a hero in the eyes of many.” Business Insider, 26 August 2018, businessinsider.com