In January 2015, just after becoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John Sidney McCain III — a man who served his country for six decades throughout both a storied military and political career — was asked what he wants on his tombstone.
His answer to the N.Y. Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg: "He served his country."
Former Secretary of State John Kerry — a Democrat and fellow Navy veteran who served in the Senate with John McCain (called him "Johnny Mac") — includes this recollection in his forthcoming memoir, "Every Day Is Extra," out Sept. 4:
- "For John, this notion that [prisoners of war] might have been left behind alive [in Vietnam] was more than personal. Based on his own horrendous experience, ... he was convinced the so-called evidence of live Americans was wrong, for he and his fellow prisoners had developed a code by which they communicated and memorized the names of every prisoner captured."
- Kerry chaired the Senate Select Committee on POW and MIA Affairs, and McCain was a member: "This work was one of those rare chances you get in public life to actually bring people something they’d waited for, for more than two decades: peace. The peace that comes with closure."
- "[I]n our new friendship, and in the work we did, we were ending the war about the war. If a protester and a prisoner of war can find common ground on the most divisive of issues, finding common ground on almost anything else didn’t seem so hard after all."
From "Worth the Fighting For: A Memoir," by McCain with his muse, aide and counselor Mark Salter, published in 2002, after his rollicking but ultimately disappointing run for president in 2000 (hat tip: John Meacham):
"Success, wealth, [and] celebrity, gained and kept for private interest, are small things. ... But sacrifice for a cause greater than self-interest, and you invest your life with the eminence of that cause, [and] your self-respect is assured."
And, from McCain's last book, "The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations" — also written with Mark Salter, and published in May:
"I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times. … The bell tolls for me. I knew it would. … I hope those who mourn my passing, and those who don’t, will celebrate as I celebrate a happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals, whose continued success is the hope of the world. And I wish all of you great adventures, good company, and lives as lucky as mine."