Two Years Without John McCain

In August of 2018 I was lounging in my friend’s backyard, enjoying the smell of the grill and Cuban cigars from the luxury of a lawn chair. It was my friend’s graduation party, and I couldn’t have been more proud of him. He was headed to Boston University — he just wrapped up year two, and he’s loving it.

Summer was in full swing but the flavor of fall was in the air. I’ve heard it said that your character, not circumstance, should shape your emotion. But damn, I’m a sucker for the season. 

The sweetness of winter is just on the horizon, the heat of the summer is right on your tail, and the glory of autumn is upon you. What a joy.

I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. Reaching to grab it, I turned on the screen. A notification from the New York Times app flashed before my eyes: John McCain dead at 81. 

My heart raced, but my mind didn’t catch up. I mentioned it to my friend’s father, who had served in Iraq. He was shocked, but also a bit unsure how to process the information.

The rest of the day was a blur. I had no idea how to react with my friends around. That evening, when the sun began to set, I had time to myself. I’d like to preface this with a fact: I am not one to cry, nor one to get especially emotional.

I cried that evening. I wondered what the world would be like without John McCain. I prayed that God would deliver the Maverick unto eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Driving up a side road later that night, I saw that the I️-17 highway had been completely emptied going South. Then, I noticed hundreds gathered on each overpass of the interstate, waving flags.

What came next took my breath away.

A caravan of police and SUVs came slowly down the highway that evening. I stopped my car and watched on in awe.

It was Senator McCain’s body, along with his close family and friends, being transported downtown so that his body could lie in state at the State Capitol prior to lying in state at the U.S. Capitol.

In that moment I felt something more profound within myself than ever before: I was witnessing history, and I was watching the last moments on earth of one of history’s great men.

There is no explaining this emotion. It is deeper than this world. It’s a window into man’s great past, our distant future, and the domain of the Almighty God.

Campaign tales

I had the pleasure of personally knowing John McCain, being one of the youngest interns on his 2016 Senate campaign. He was nothing but class, and I went into the office at least 15 hours a week that summer.

Not only did he speak to us, he conversed with us. 

After he won, he invited us all to his ranch in Cornville, and I was able to discuss Russia and the future of the state Republican Party with him at the age of 15 on a cool November evening. What an experience, and what a man.

I grew close to family friends of the McCain family, and the stories I’ve heard from others only point towards his sterling character and enormous legacy.

After that race, I was fortunate to be among the few interns that got a personal letter from John. That letter sits on my desk to this day, and I reckon it will until the day I die.

A great man

John McCain reminds me of what it means to be a truly good man. A man of character, and integrity, and dignity, and worth. A man willing to put himself last and others first. A man that “stares destiny in the eye without flinching, and without attempting to play God,” as Henry Kissinger put it.

In human history, there are few truly great people. I give thanks to God that I was able to live alongside one of them, even to call him a mentor. What an honor.

But in reflecting on his life and legacy, we must also look forward.

Building the future

“Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet. To hell with them. They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.”

John McCain wrote these words in his final book, The Restless Wave, coauthored by long-time aid and confidant Mark Salter.

In this new American century, we must take notes from the life and legacy of America’s pride and the Free World’s most ardent defender.

Above all we must place ourselves in the arena, as John did everyday. We must shake off the critics and dismiss the noise of the day-to-day.

When John McCain called for a return to “regular order” in the Senate, it was a call to civility. But it wasn’t a call to passivity.

A fighter his entire life, he suffered in the Hanoi Hilton for three extra years because he refused to leave his comrades behind bars. Facing an uphill battle, he bucked special interests and party leadership in authoring a campaign finance reform bill with bipartisan backing. Faced with the allure of a dirty campaign in 2008, he chose the high road.

If we wish to embody his legacy — to be even half the man he was — we must recognize that there are fights worth fighting. There are principles worth dying for. There are virtues that transcend earthly ends.

America is an exceptional nation because of patriots like John McCain. 

The question for our generation is this: are we willing to pick up the torch and carry on the great American legacy, or will we shrink from our obligations?

The greatest single lesson I learned from him was that in victory we must be humble, and in defeat we must be honorable. We are not in this world alone. By the grace of God and for the sake of future generations, every single action we take today will echo in the halls of eternity.

Now, more than ever, we must pledge to uphold and defend the values of our explorer Republic. Our City Upon a Shining Hill.

Today, and everyday, I miss John McCain. Our nation yearns for leaders like him. But as he would remind us, destiny is what we make it.

“What God and good luck provide we must accept with gratitude. Our time is our time. It’s up to us to make the most of it, make it amount to more than the sum of our days.”

So let us go forth, by God’s grace, and make this world a better place than we found it. Our only hopelessness will be found within ourselves — for what is history but a great tale of hope? What are the religions of the world but great reflections of that eternal Hope we find in one another and in the Almighty?


As an intern, I often fetched the Senator his coffee when he was in-office. I never used to like coffee. It was always either too bitter or too sweet.

I must admit that I’m a bit of a Starbucks addict today. It all began with that campaign, so I’ve got the Senator blame for a caffeine addiction.

As the fall comes upon us two years after he crossed that great divide, I find myself just as much of a romantic for the season as I was then. 

I find myself on morning coffee runs, waking up before the sun rises because I believe that if America’s always at its dawn, I should at least get a head start.

Making calls one day, I could see through the half-opened door that the Senator was reading at his desk while sipping a cup of joe, alone with his thoughts and a Wall Street Journal column.

There is something immeasurably stoic — glorious — in such a great man, who suffered under Communism, lived to see the rise of totalitarianism, it’s fall, and it’s resurrections, to simply be at peace with life as it is. But there he was.

Every morning I sip my coffee and make a point to read the morning news. I make a point to do the small things right, as much as I can, and to always place my love for country and God — and my subsequent duties to both — at the forefront of my mind.

I miss him. I can’t imagine how his family feels. I can’t imagine how his close friends and advisors feel these days. But what I do know is that it’s our responsibility to carry on his story. The American story.

I’ll close with a lyric from one of his favorite bands, The Beach Boys, remembering his naval legacy and the great man he was:

So take a lesson from a top-notch surfer boy

Every Saturday boy

But don’t treat it like a toy

Just get away from the shady turf

And baby go catch some rays on the sunny surf

And when you catch a wave you’ll be sittin on top of the world

Let’s go catch that damn wave.

Published by Joe Pitts

Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of The Western Tribune, Joe is a first-generation Arizonan attending Arizona State University's Barrett, the Honors College.

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