By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) – Residents lined up at the Arizona statehouse on Wednesday to pay respects to the late U.S. Senator John McCain, the Vietnam War hero and two-time Republican presidential candidate whose body will lie in state for the day at the Capitol Rotunda in Phoenix.
A hearse bearing McCain’s body arrived with a police escort shortly before 10 a.m. local time (1700 GMT) for a private wreath-laying ceremony honouring the senator, who died of brain cancer on Saturday at his Arizona ranch. He was 81.
The hearse was greeted by Governor Doug Ducey and his wife, an Arizona National Guard casket team and a phalanx of military personnel, war veterans, law enforcement officers and firefighters in dress uniform lining both sides of Capitol Plaza.
The tribute, to be followed in the afternoon by a public viewing of his flag-draped casket, marks the start of five days of memorials in Phoenix and Washington for McCain. Wednesday would have been McCain’s 82nd birthday.
“We are privileged as a state to have called him a fellow Arizonan,” Ducey said on Twitter early Wednesday.
The governor was to join McCain’s wife, Cindy, and three of McCain’s onetime Republican colleagues from Arizona’s congressional delegation – retiring Senator Jeff Flake, former Senator Jon Kyl and former Congressman James Kolbe – for the morning ceremony.
Members of the public began lining up hours in advance for the casket viewing.
“I want to pay my respects because he deserves it,” said Linda Gordon, 58. “He represents what our country should be.”
McCain, former U.S. Navy pilot who endured 5-1/2 years as a prisoner of war after his aircraft was shot down over Hanoi, parlayed his war service into a decades-long political career.
Over the past two years he has stood out as a key rival and critic of U.S. President Donald Trump. The bad blood between the two persisted after McCain’s death, with his family asking Trump not to attend his funeral and the White House waffling on how to mourn a prominent fellow Republican.
McCain was just the third person to lie in state in the Arizona statehouse rotunda over the past 40 years, organizers of the ceremony said. The others were state Senator Marilyn Jarrett in 2006 and Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens of Tucson, in 1980.
Following a Thursday memorial, McCain’s body will be flown to the nation’s capital where he will lie in state on Friday at the U.S. Capitol before a Saturday funeral at the Washington National Cathedral.
On Sunday, McCain is to be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in a private ceremony.
Ducey has said he will wait until after McCain’s burial to name a successor. His pick will come from McCain’s party, leaving intact the Republicans’ 51-49 Senate majority.
(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Brian Snyder in Phoenix; editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis and G Crosse)