Honoring John McCain: Joe Biden, Arizona Lawmakers Speak at Phoenix Memorial Service

Joe Biden
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Following a somber ceremony on Wednesday, family, friends and political leaders are remembering the senator.

Following a somber ceremony at the Arizona State Capitol on Wednesday, family, friends and political leaders are remembering Senator John McCain at his Arizona memorial service on Thursday. McCain died at the age of 81 last weekend after a battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that was diagnosed last year.

Among those slated to speak at the Phoenix-area Baptist church are former Vice President Joe Biden, who had a decades-long friendship with McCain, and whose son, Beau Biden, also died of the same cancer.

Brophy Ensamble sings "Arizona"

The all boys prep school sings for the second time at the service, the song "Arizona" with the lyrics as follows:

"I love you, Arizona; Your mountains, deserts and streams; The rise of Dos Cabezas And the outlaws I see in my dreams. I love you Arizona,Superstitions and all; The warmth you give at sunrise; Your sunsets put music in us all. Oo, Arizona; You're the magic in me;Oo, Arizona,You're the life-blood of me."

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Biden: "John's story is the American story"

"John's story is the American story, that's not hyperbole. It's the American story. Grounded in respect and decency, basic fairness. The intolerance for the abuse of power," said former Vice President Joe Biden.

He added, "John understood America was first and foremost an idea. Audacious and risky. Organized around ideals."

Biden said his legacy will continue to challenge and inspire generations of future leaders, saying his story is far from over and that he believed so "deeply and so passionately in the soul of America."

"He made average Americans proud," said Biden.

Biden added that "Even though John is not with us, he left us pretty clear instructions: 'Belive always in the promise and greatness in America because nothing is inevitable here.'"

Joe Biden on the pain of cancer

Former Vice President Joe Biden said he trusted McCain with his life "and I think he would have trusted me with his."

Biden noted that "there are times when life can be so cruel, pain so blinding it's hard to see anything else." He pointed to cancer, glioblastoma, that took the life of their mutual friend former Senator Ted Kennedy and Biden's own son Beau.

"It's brutal, it's relentless and its unforgiving," said a subdued Biden. "But the world now shares with you the ache of John's death," he added, saying he's received numerous calls, letters and messages of sympathy from around the world and the country.

"Character is destiny, and John had character," he added.

Biden, who has experienced his own share of family heartache and loss, said there will be days where a feeling, a smell or a fleeting image of McCain will bring sorrow. He added, however, that there will be a day when his memory will bring happiness instead of tears.

"You know you're going to make it when the image of your dad, your husband, your friend crosses your mind and a smile comes to your lip before a tear to your eye," he said.

"I promise you, I give you my word, I promise you, this I know, that day will come."

Former Vice President calls McCain a "brother"

"My name's Joe Biden. I'm a Democrat. And I love John McCain," the former vice president said as he began his eulogy with a room full of laughs during the somber ceremony.

"I always thought of John as a brother, with a hell of a lot of family fights," he said, recalling his time sparring in the senate with McCain.

The former vice president said during his time in the senate he talked endlessly with McCain about the "promise of America, because we were both cock-eyed optimists."

"We both believed theres's not a single thing beyond the capacity of this country," said Biden. He added, "Above all we understood the same thing, all politics is personal, it's all about trust."

Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. on his "unlikely" friendship with McCain

Larry Fitzgerald, Jr., wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, said that he found an "unlikely" friendship with McCain after he visited Hanoi where McCain was held for five years as a POW.

"He was the epitome of toughness, and I do everything to avoid contact," said Fitzgerald.

The NFL pro said that McCain never judged others on the basis of their ethnicity, background or political affiliation. "He evaluated them on the merits of their character and the contents of their hearts."

Fitzgerald said McCain "cared about the substance of my heart more so than where I came from" which made him the "iconic figure in American politics" he is today.

Tommy Espinoza says McCain's imprisonment "molded" the senator

Tommy Espinoza, a family friend and President and Chief Executive Officer of the Raza Development Fund, said that McCain's five years as a POW in Hanoi "is where God molded this fantastic hero."

Espinoza shared an anecdote of hiring a traditional mariachi band to perform for a dinner with McCain and his family, saying it showed how committed to America's diverse tapestry the late senator was.

He said it was "no surprise" McCain took a risk in putting Sarah Palin on the 2008 presidential campaign ticket.

"He understood all of us, whether it was white, black, brown, Asian. To him it didn't make any difference," added Espinoza of McCain's "maverick" menatlity.

"What he knew is that we all make America great."

Grant Woods on McCain's spirit of bipartisanship

"We also worry here in Arizona about a bigger picture I hope what he stood for will maybe get a renewed look in our country, that's what he would want," said Grant Woods, the former two-term Attorney General for Arizona and family friend of McCain. He said McCain believed "so much that this in the end when it's all said and done, this Republican-Democrat thing isn't all that important. "

"We can work together as Americans," Woods added, saying that the late senator stood firmly in defense of a diverse America and the rights of every single citizen.

"Senator John McCain: He served his country with honor, he fought the good fight, he finished the race, he kept the faith," Woods concluded in his remarks.

Woods says working with McCain the "greatest honor of my life"

Woods recalled McCain's cunning wit and humor in his early days of politics. Woods, former chief of staff for then-Congressman McCain, called his over 30 years of work with McCain the "greatest honor of my life."

"It was once a little bit harrowing, a little bit wild, a little bit crazy but a lot of fun and the greatest honor of my life."

Woods said he's been often asked if he had a feeling he was working with someone so special. "My answer is yes absolutely, no question about it," said Woods.

On his love for the state, Woods said McCain "loved the people, our diversity, our Native American community, our hispanic culture and he loved the place -- in particular the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River."

"In Arizona, he was our hero,. I think you can see from this outpouring of support and love for John McCain that he was America's hero," said Woods.

He added, "If John McCain fell in love with Arizona, Arizona fell in love with John McCain."

Memorial church service begins

The service inside the Phoenix church begins at 1:00 p.m. as speakers, including Biden took the stage. McCain's casket is slowly carried in as the family followed behind.

His casket, draped in American flag, is placed beside two large all-white flower arrangements.

In delivering the invocation, Senior Pastor Dr. Noe Garcia called McCain "a true American hero" who was "loved by this nation and this city, a man of courage, a man of faith and a man who dearly loved his family."

Shortly after, the Brophy Student Ensemble performed a somber rendition of the song "Amazing Grace"

McCain arrives to Phoenix church

Senator John McCain arrived at the Phoenix church with a stream of police officers on motorcycles escorting his casket just after 12:45 p.m. Members of the National Guard casket team carried his body as the McCain family, including wife Cindy, her sons Jack and Jimmy and daughters Meghan and Bridget, followed behind.

McCain departs en route to church service

Shortly after 12:08 p.m. the hearse carrying McCain's casket departed for its procession to the North Phoenix Baptist Church. Scores of police escort the processional along the Arizona roadways.

Hearse arrives to escort McCain's casket
At 12 noon, a police escort with the McCain family arrived at the Arizona State Capitol where his body had been lying in state since Wednesday.

Local mourners lined the Capitol Plaza holding 2008 McCain campaign posters as his casket, carried by members of the Arizona National Guard, was escorted into a black hearse.

The family now is traveling to the Phoenix church for the memorial service.

McCain's attention to Native Americans

Senator McCain made sure to include the participation of members of the Native American community, a rich demographic in Arizona, in his week of memorial services. Performing a hymn at Thursday's service is Jonah LittleSunday, a Navajo flutist.

Senator McCain had a special relationship with Arizona's Native American community, and "fought tirelessly to uphold the federal government's solemn obligation to care for and empower tribes," according to a statement from his office.

He twice chaired the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs from 1995-1997 and again from 2005-2007.

Biden's connection to the McCain family

Close family friend and former campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters that former Vice President Joe Biden has been quite close to the family as of late, offering his time and knowledge on glioblastoma, the same form of cancer that took the life of his son Beau.

Davis said that Biden has been "treated as a member of the family", most notably consoling an emotional Meghan McCain during an appearance on ABC's "The View" as they discussed her father's diagnosis.

Biden and McCain first became friends in the late 1970's when Senator McCain served as the Navy's liaison to the Senate and accompanied then-Senator Biden on overseas trips.

Lawmakers present for McCain's service

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Former Vice President Dan Quayle, 24 sitting U.S. Senators, four former senators, and other notable leaders from the State of Arizona are expected to attend the memorial service, many of whom are being flown out from D.C. to participate in the ceremony.

This story was published and updated on CBS news on Aug. 30, 2018 at 2:25 p.m.