By Katherine Davis-Young
PHOENIX (Reuters) – Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was due to lead mourners in saluting the late John McCain, his former Senate colleague, at a Phoenix church service on Thursday celebrating the life of the Vietnam War hero and two-time Republican presidential candidate.
The memorial service at the North Phoenix Baptist Church marks the second of five days of commemorative tributes to McCain, who died on Saturday after a nearly yearlong battle with brain cancer. He was 81.
On Wednesday, several thousand admirers stood in line for hours in the blazing Arizona sun and triple-digit heat to pay final respects to McCain, eventually filing past his flag-draped coffin as it lay in state in the Arizona Capital rotunda.
The public viewing followed a brief ceremony for family and dignitaries led by Republican Governor Doug Ducey, who has said he would appoint McCain’s immediate successor in the Senate only after McCain’s burial on Sunday.
The onetime U.S. Navy fighter pilot endured 5-1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam after his aircraft was shot down over Hanoi. He went on to a celebrated career on Capitol Hill, earning a reputation as a political maverick who prided himself on working across party lines on issues such as immigration, climate change and campaign finance reform.
As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he also became a leading voice on national defense.
McCain stood out during the last two years of his life as a leading Republican critic of U.S. President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican whom McCain’s family has asked not to attend his funeral on Saturday at Washington’s National Cathedral.
Thursday’s plans called for a hearse to carry McCain’s coffin in the morning from the Arizona statehouse to the north Phoenix church, leading a motorcade that members of the public were invited to join.
In addition to loved ones, as well as civic, business and tribal leaders invited to the service from across Arizona, organizers have made about 1,000 seats available at the church for members of the public.
The main speech in tribute to McCain was to be delivered by Biden, a friend and former six-term Democratic senator from Delaware who was elected vice president as the running mate of McCain’s rival for the White House, Barack Obama, who defeated McCain in the 2008 presidential race.
Larry Fitzgerald, a McCain friend and wide receiver for the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals, will also speak at Thursday’s service. The hymn “Amazing Grace” is to be performed by the Brophy Student Ensemble, from the college preparatory school in Phoenix attended by McCain, his wife, Cindy, and their sons, Jack and Jimmy.
(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Brian Snyder in Phoenix; writing by Steve Gorman; editing by Frances Kerry, Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry)