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Former VP Biden Gives Emotional Tribute At McCain's Memorial Service


The first memorial service for Senator John McCain was held today in his home state of Arizona. In his eulogy, former Vice President Joe Biden remembered his longtime friend and Senate colleague as a man who judged people by their values, not their politics. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This service in Phoenix was a chance for McCain's home state to bid him farewell.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Amazing grace, how sweet the sound...

GONYEA: The first emotional moment came when McCain's daughter, Bridget, fought through tears to read from Ecclesiastes.


BRIDGET MCCAIN: A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck that which is planted.

GONYEA: Friends told stories. Yes, they noted McCain's courage while a POW in North Vietnam and his service in the Senate. But mostly, it was tales of small moments, of how bad a driver McCain was or his embarrassingly blunt manner. Tommy Espinoza, a Mexican-American and activist, recalled getting a phone call back in the '80s. McCain, he says, was talking a hundred miles an hour about running for Senate for the first time.


TOMMY ESPINOZA: And he says, I want you to co-chair my campaign. I said, well, John, you know I'm a Democrat.


GONYEA: McCain answered...


ESPINOZA: He said, I don't care. You're my friend. I want you to co-chair. I said, well, let me sleep on it. No, no, no, you give me an answer right now - yes or no. And of course I said yes.

GONYEA: After close to an hour, the final speaker stood before the gathered audience, opening with a confession.


JOE BIDEN: My name is Joe Biden.


BIDEN: I'm a Democrat.


BIDEN: And I love John McCain.

GONYEA: Former Vice President Biden and McCain were U.S. senators together for more than 20 years. Biden recalled what it was like to witness a true John McCain moment.


BIDEN: Or when you saw the sheer joy that crossed his face the moment he knew he was about to get up and take the stage of the Senate floor and start a fight.


BIDEN: God, he loved it.


GONYEA: He described McCain's, quote, "ancient code" - fairness, civility, duty. And then Biden seemed to be speaking to the current president. He said, you could always disagree with John McCain.


BIDEN: But where he'd part company with you if you lacked the basic values of decency, respect, knowing that this project is bigger than yourself.

GONYEA: Biden noted that he lost his son, Beau, three years ago to the same type of cancer that killed McCain. He spoke from an emotional place as he addressed McCain's family.


BIDEN: And I know right now the pain you all are feeling is so sharp and so hollowing, and John's absence is all-consuming for all of you right now. It's like being sucked into a black hole inside your chest.

GONYEA: But Biden said from experience he knows that the day will come when memories of a lost loved one bring smiles before they bring tears. His final words were that John McCain's legacy is far from complete.


BIDEN: To paraphrase Shakespeare, we shall not see his like again.


GONYEA: Former Vice President Joe Biden at a service for Senator John McCain in Phoenix this afternoon. Don Gonyea, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BALMORHEA'S "MASOLLAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.