In one way, the fallen of the great republic are all equal in death. The casket draped with a new flag is the same for a soldier headed on the last journey home in a military transport from Iraq or Afghanistan, the veteran of Korea or Vietnam coming to his final rest, or the great figure in public life mourned by millions. That is as it should be.
But it is also right that each should be unique, and so it was for John McCain and the service honoring him in America’s second-largest church, the Washington National Cathedral. There were several thousand people in attendance, so many eminent persons that the multibillionaires and legendary commanders, the nationally known journalists and eminent intellectuals sat anonymously in the middle of the pack. In the front row were three former presidents and their vice presidents; senators and representatives by the score, if not the hundreds; former and current secretaries of Cabinet offices; and presidents, prime ministers, and ambassadors of foreign countries.
An occasion of this kind is bound to linger in the mind as a series of moments—the preliminary soft knelling of the bourdon bell as the official party entered; the rustle of hundreds of right hands moving to cover hundreds of hearts as the honor guard slowly carried the casket up the long aisle; the widow, a picture of dignified grief, allowing her head to sink to her sailor son’s shoulder during the singing of “Danny Boy”; the startling and universal applause when McCain’s grieving daughter, with a fierceness that was her father’s and a sorrowing fury that was her own, reminded those in attendance that America does not need to be made great again, because it was always great.