‘John McCain will always have our back’: Politicians pay tribute to the late senator in Arizona ceremony

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William Thomas Cain/Getty Images(PHOENIX) -- The first of five days of memorials honoring the late Sen. John McCain started in his adopted home state of Arizona Wednesday, with his becoming the third person in 40 years to lie in state at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix.

Some heavy-hitters of Arizona politics gave moving tributes to McCain, who died Saturday, recalling his decades of service and his love of his adopted state.

Gov. Doug Ducey compared McCain to another former Arizona senator, the later Barry Goldwater, whom McCain succeeded, saying that while Goldwater was born in the state, McCain grew attached to it later in life.

"John McCain was Arizona's favorite adopted son," Ducey said, adding that imagining an Arizona without McCain would be like imagining the state without the Grand Canyon. "It's just not natural."

"John McCain will always have our back," Ducey said.

The longtime senator’s casket has been placed above the mosaic seal that shows the state’s motto, "Ditat Deus," or Latin for "God Enriches."

McCain’s casket was at the center of the memorial service Wednesday, which would have been his 82nd birthday, with chairs set up on all sides and a lectern between the U.S. and Arizonan flags.

The private ceremony, which lasted about a half hour, began when McCain’s immediate family entered after the casket, with the procession lined by veterans, members of the military, law enforcement and first responders.

Former Senator Jon Kyl was the first politician to speak, sharing thoughts on the times they traveled together while both representing Arizona.

"John McCain believed in America. He believed in its people, its power, its institutions," Kyl said, adding that McCain "dedicated his life to serve his country. When he saw challenges to its institutions or values, he fought."

"I will miss him as a friend and as a strong force for America in the world," Kyl said.

Outgoing Sen. Flake paid tribute to McCain's life of public service.

"We are grateful for his life and for his sacrifice," Flake said.

In addition to the speakers with personal ties forged through politics, the ceremony began on a personal note with an invocation from the Rev. Edward A. Reese, who used to be the president of the Phoenix high school that McCain’s sons Jack and Jimmy attended.

"Let these tears bring blooms in the desert he loved, in the country he served, and in all our hearts," Reese said during the invocation.

The ceremony was closed to the public but people will have the chance to pay their respects in the rotunda starting at 2 p.m.

Temperatures are expected to reach 104 degrees in Phoenix Wednesday, but that didn’t stop some mourners from getting an early start.

A group of motorcyclists parked their bikes in the lot behind the Capitol Wednesday morning two hours before the ceremony was scheduled to begin. They came from multiple motorcycle groups, as well as being members of the Patriot Guard Riders, with two saying that, as veterans, they felt called to be here.

"He showed up for us," one man said of the Navy veteran and former prisoner of war, "so we’re showing up for him."

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