An estimated 3,500 mourners crowded into an Arizona church Thursday to remember Sen. John McCain after a motorcade bearing his body made its way past people waving American flags and campaign-style signs.
Family members watched in silence as uniformed military members removed the Republican senator’s flag-draped casket from a black hearse and carried it into the North Phoenix Baptist for the commemoration featuring former Vice President Joe Biden and other dignitaries.
Twenty-four sitting U.S. senators, four former senators and other leaders from Arizona were expected at the service for the maverick politician, former prisoner of war and two-time presidential candidate.
As the 11-vehicle motorcade with a 17-motorcycle police escort made its way along the 8-mile (13-kilometer) route, people held signs that read simply “McCain,” and cars on the other side of the highway stopped or slowed to a crawl in apparent tribute.
A few firefighters saluted from atop a fire engine parked on an overpass as the motorcade passed underneath on Interstate 17.
One man shouted, “We love you!”
McCain died last Saturday of brain cancer at 81.
The crowd in the church stood silently as the casket was placed before a set of floral arrangements and McCain’s family entered behind it.
On Wednesday, a private service was held at the Capitol for family and friends. Cindy McCain pressed her face against her husband’s coffin, and daughter Meghan McCain erupted in sobs.
McCain sons Doug, Jack and Jimmy, daughter Sidney and daughter-in-law Renee shook hands with some of the estimated 15,000 people who filed past the senator’s casket to pay their final respects.
About 1,000 seats for Thursday’s church service were made available to members of the public who signed up.
Michael Fellars was among those awaiting the motorcade outside the church. The Marines veteran said he was also the fourth person in line Wednesday to attend the public viewing at the Capitol.
“He was about the only politician that I have ever known who cared for the people in his country, and he tried his level best to make it a better place in which to live,” Fellars said.
Honor guard member Valentine Costalez praised McCain for championing the military during his Senate career.
“He’s done so much for us,” said Costalez, who stood watch earlier this week while McCain’s body was at a funeral home.
A choir from the Jesuit-run Brophy College Preparatory school that two of McCain’s sons attended sang “Amazing Grace.”
McCain’s daughter Bridget delivered a scripture reading, and his longtime chief of staff Grant Woods, a former Arizona attorney general, offered a eulogy in which he talked about McCain’s “terribly bad driving” and his wicked sense of humor, which included calling the Leisure World retirement community “Seizure World.”
The music chosen for the recession was Frank Sinatra’s signature song, “My Way,” paying tribute to a man who became known for following his own path based on his personal principles.
The much smaller service at the Capitol was filled with affecting moments and demonstrations of deep respect for the statesman and Navy pilot who was held prisoner by the North Vietnamese for 5½ years after being shot down over Hanoi.
Gov. Doug Ducey remembered McCain as “Arizona’s favorite adopted son” on what would have been his 82nd birthday.
The Capitol was then opened to the public in the afternoon, allowing visitors to walk past the closed casket after waiting in line outside in temperatures that reached 104 degrees (40 Celsius).
Ray Riordan, an 87-year-old Navy veteran who fought in the Korean War, came from Payson, Arizona.
“I grew up where a handshake was a contract and your word was your bond,” Riordan said. “He represented the last of that as far as I’m concerned.”
After Thursday’s church service, a military aircraft was scheduled to take McCain’s body back east for a lying-in-state at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, a service at the Washington National Cathedral on Saturday, and burial at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Associated Press writers Anita Snow, Jacques Billeaud and Nicholas Riccardi in Phoenix contributed to this report.