Senator John McCain dead at 81

PHOENIX (KSAZ) -- Senator John McCain, who served as Arizona's Senator since 1987, has passed away at the age of 81.

He was born on August 29, 1936. After a distinguished military career, he was elected to represent Arizona in the House of Representatives and then the U.S. Senate. McCain reached the pinnacle of his political career as the Republican Presidential Nominee in 2008.

"It's been a phenomenal ride and I am grateful for every minute of it," he said.

Just days after his brain cancer diagnosis, Senator McCain returned to the Senate to the applause and admiration of his fellow senators. He remained true to form, admonishing fellow senators from both sides, himself included -- over the Senate's inability to get things done.

"We've all played some role in it. Certainly I have. Sometimes, I've let my passion rule my reason. Sometimes, I made it harder to find common ground because of something harsh I said to a colleague. Sometimes, I wanted to win more for the sake of winning than to achieve a contested policy. Incremental progress, compromises that each side criticize but also accept, just plain muddling through to chip away at problems and keep our enemies from doing their worst isn't glamorous or exciting. It doesn't feel like a political triumph. But it's usually the most we can expect from our system of government, operating in a country as diverse and quarrelsome and free as ours."

He also promised his colleagues that he would return.

"I'm going home for a while to treat my illness. I have every intention of returning here giving many of you pause to regret many of the nice things you said about me."

It was only two days later that McCain may have done just that -- when he cast the deciding vote to kill the so-called "Skinny" ObamaCare repeal. McCain walked to the front of the Senate and gave it the thumbs down.

John Sidney McCain, III followed family tradition by serving in the United States Navy. Both his father and grandfather ended their Naval careers as Four-Star Admirals. McCain, III graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958 and he became a Naval Aviator during the height of the Vietnam War.

After he was nearly killed in a 1967 fire aboard the U.S.S. Forestall, McCain was shot down on a bombing mission over Hanoi. He ejected, and parachuted into a lake near Hanoi, where he was pulled ashore and beaten.

"When I was first captured, they bayonetted me a couple of times and broke my shoulder," he said.

Seriously injured, he was tortured by his captors and forced to read a statement on camera.

"The plane continued straight down and I ejected and broke my leg and both arms."

Once the North Vietnamese learned his father was the commander of all naval forces in the Pacific, his treatment improved, for a time. But after McCain refused to be released early, ahead of Americans who had been imprisoned longer -- the brutal treatment resumed.

"Later on they did things like bind up my legs and break my arm one time."

McCain was finally released with all other American Prisoners of War in 1973 and he retired from the Navy as a Captain in 1981. His 17 military awards and decorations included the Legion of Merit, Silver Star, distinguished Flying Cross, Navy Commendation Medal and Bronze Star.

His wounds from being shot down and tortured would leave him with permanent arm and leg problems. Still, McCain buried the hatchet with his North Vietnamese tormentors and led the way to normalized relations with Vietnam.

In 1985, he visited the site of his imprisonment with then CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, even opening the door to his old prison cell.

Later, McCain said it was faith that pulled him through.

"You have faith in God, faith in his country and faith in the knowledge that your citizens are behind you and doing everything they can to bring you home."

McCain then moved to Arizona and entered politics. In 1982, he was elected to the House of Representatives, but after just two terms, he ran for the Senate seat vacated by Barry Goldwater.

"I will be a candidate to serve the people of Arizona in the United States senate in 1986."

He won easily, but his poliical career teetered a bit when he was implicated in a political influence scandal involving Charles Keating. McCain was one of the so-called "Keating Five," but he testified that it was fellow Arizona Senator Dennis DeConcini who first suggested he meet with regulators investigating Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan.

"He suggested that he and I fly to San Francisco to see the regulators. I told him I didn't think that was an appropriate thing to do."

McCain apologized and reimbursed Keating for the trips he and his wife Cindy had taken as Keating's guest to the Bahamas. As a result, McCain was cleared of any wrong doing, but rebuffed for showing poor judgement.

"I have found in my political career that everytime I have done things because it was the right thing to do, it has turned out alright in the end. When I have done things for political reasons, which I have, then it's always turned out badly."

McCain first ran for the Republican Presidential Nomination in 2000. He spent months campaigning in New Hampshire, the first primary election state and would often host reporters on his campaign bus, which became known as the Straight Talk Express.

"A wonderful New Hampshire campaign has come to an end, but a great national crusade has just begun."

The strategy paid off. McCain upset favorite George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary, but after being brutalized by negative campaigning in South Carolina, he was eventually eliminated in that contest and the campaign became unraveled.

"We have common purposes and common challenges and we live in momentous times."

Eight years later, we were with the senator once more on his Straight Talk Express as he made his second bid for the White House in 2008. But without big campaign contributions, the early going was rough.

"Obviously, we've had to make some changes in our staff and get our spending under control."

At one point, he was seen traveling alone to California aboard a commercial flight where our Steve Krafft caught up with him.

"Every campaign I've ever been in has had its ups and downs and we're having a downer and we're obviously on the way back up."

But the more orthodox conservative positions he took helped him in a remarkable comeback and he secured the nomination, culminating in his acceptance speech at the GOP Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

"I have the privilege given to few Americans, the privilege of accepting our party's nomination for President of the United States."

But his controversial choice for Vice President, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, was seen as a desperate move which backfired after Palin was targeted by the national media. And an attempt by McCain to cancel the final 2008 Presidential Debate with Barack Obama to return to Washington to help solve the growing fiscal crisis was also seen as a Hail Mary pass that he didn't complete.

McCain lost the general election, giving his concession speech to Republicans at the Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix.

"A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country we both love."

Away from the cameras, John McCain loved spending time in the Arizona outdoors with family, children and grandchildren at the family cabin in Cornville.

"We like to have a lot of people around."

McCain was twice married. His second wife Cindy Lou Hensley, a teacher from Phoenix, whose father had founded a large beer distributing company. They were often on the campaign trail together.

McCain adopted the two boys his first wife had before their marriage and had three children with Cindy. They also adopted Bridget, a girl Cindy brought home from Bangladesh for medical treatment.

In 2009, his on John Sidney McCain, IV or "Jack" as they called him, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, becoming the fourth generation McCain to do so. Jack served two tours with the Marines in the 2003 Iraq War. His son Doug flew jets in the Navy. His daughter, Meghan, made a name for herself by blogging her comments about the future of the Republican party.

John McCain was also famous for impatience and a quick temper, angering many Democrats and Republicans alike, earning him the label, "Maverick."

"I am still an Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan Republican.. those are my principles and beliefs."

McCain was also always on the move, as we learned when we spent a day with him in Washington, D.C. Whether it was off to a committee meeting, or an interview, the senator was always someone who set a pace few could match.

McCain's crowded hour was interrupted in July, 2017 when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Scottsdale Mayo Clinic doctors said the senator had a primary glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor. It was discovered when McCain had surgery to remove a blood clot behind his left eye.

The news brought out the worst and the best in social media.

Some right-wing bloggers claimed it was God's justice for McCain's criticism of Donald Trump. But among the thousands of positive messages sent were ones from former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

From Obama's tweet:
"John McCain is an American hero and one of the bravest fighters I've ever known. Cancer doesn't know what it's up against. Give it hell, John."

"What a great honor and extraordinary opportunity it is to serve in this body," said McCain. "I won't be here forever and now is my opportunity to do good things or try to do good things so I seize every opportunity to do so."

McCain's memoir, "Faith of My Fathers" was published in 1999 and later became a made for TV movie.

According to one reviewer, the story of McCain's survival in Vietnamese captivity was the "kind of challenge that most of us can barely imagine."