A large crowd — with chairs, American flags and signs — lined the sidewalks to watch the funeral procession of Sen. John McCain pass by.
Sam and Joan Smith were among the few people near the United States Naval Academy around noon Sunday.
Earlier that morning, the Annapolis couple had put their two chairs on a shaded hill near the Lincoln Military Housing, overlooking the Naval Academy, where Sen. John McCain’s funeral procession was expected to pass, and waited.
By 1:30 p.m., hundreds of people — with chairs, American flags and signs — lined the sidewalks of Annapolis hoping to pay homage to the late politician.
McCain, who died Aug. 25 at age 81, was buried Sunday afternoon at the Naval Academy Cemetery, next to a longtime friend and academy classmate, Adm. Charles Larson, a former Naval Academy superintendent.
McCain, a longtime senator from Arizona, former Republican presidential nominee and prisoner of war in Vietnam, graduated from the academy in 1958 and is one of its most distinguished alumni.
A private memorial service at the academy's chapel was followed by a procession to the burial site. Invited along with family and friends were members of McCain's academy class of 1958, military leaders and the Brigade of Midshipmen.
Scheduled speakers at the service included McCain's son Jack, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican; and retired Gen. David Petraeus, also a former CIA director.
Among the pallbearers on a list provided by McCain's office were Frank Gamboa, his academy roommate; Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; and two men who were POWs with McCain in Vietnam, John Fer and Everett Alvarez Jr.
Among the crowd that turned out to honor McCain was Navy Cmdr. Chris Brianas, 41, a 1999 Naval Academy alumnus, who came with his wife, Cezanne, 40, and their 7-year-old daughter, Melania.
“I feel like we couldn’t miss this opportunity to honor a great Naval Academy alumni and an American hero,” said Brianas, who described the procession as beautiful and somber — a celebration of “everything [McCain] meant to this country and what he did with his life.”
Brianas said he admired McCain’s ability “to be serious, to be thoughtful, extremely witty, to reach across the aisle, persevere and to never sway in his integrity.”
Gov. Larry Hogan, who attended McCain’s funeral service, said in a statement on Facebook that he admired McCain for “placing country ahead of party and principles over politics.”
“We should all strive to follow his example and honor his legacy,” said Hogan, noting that it was an honor welcoming his family to lay McCain to rest in Annapolis. “I am humbled to have known Senator McCain, and our prayers remain with his family and the entire country as we mourn this great loss.”
Sam Smith, 71, a retired federal employee, and his wife Joan, 76, who said she met McCain once at a campaign event in Arizona, lamented the loss of McCain’s grit, honesty, personality and “everything he did for this country,” they said.
The couple said they were especially moved by the memorial service Saturday at Washington’s National Cathedral, where former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush gave eulogies.
“He was always a champion of the people,” said Sam Smith, noting that he admired McCain’s effort toward campaign reform and better regulation of banks.
He was often unafraid to voice his opinion, was successful in negotiating with people he disagreed with and paid attention to small details, added Joan Smith.
As buses filled with people passed by — some labeled with signs “Honoring Senator John McCain,” Stacy Cole, 45; her daughter, Bianca Elliott, 15; and friend Nancy McCamish, 54, gleefully waved their flags near an entrance to the Naval Academy.
“We all just want to bear witness to the final journey of a hero in our hometown,” Cole said before the procession.
McCamish, who remembers watching McCain on TV, said that, during a time when the country was divided, “he was somebody that brought together both sides.”
Vietnam veteran Michael J. Butler, 68, could be seen saluting and taking off his hat as McCain’s casket, draped in the American flag in a black hearse, proceeded through the Naval Academy gates around 1:40 p.m.
Butler drove alone from his home in Greenport, N.Y., leaving around 3 a.m. Sunday to see the procession, which lasted just minutes. But it was worth it to represent Vietnam veterans and honor McCain, he said.
“He’s a great man,” Butler said. “He stands for America in a way that most people can’t understand.”