John McCain Becomes Only The 31st Person To Lie In State In The U.S. Capitol

The rare honor is reserved for government officials and military officers.

John McCain waving.
Eric Thayer / Getty Images

The rare honor is reserved for government officials and military officers.

Before he was a U.S. Senator, John McCain was held hostage as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than five years. He passed away last week after a year’s long battle with terminal brain cancer.

Yesterday, McCain was returned to Washington, D.C. for his memorial service. He is honored to lie in state in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol. Only 30 people before him have been given the honor. The honor is reserved for government officials and military officers.

Speaking at his ceremony, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan spoke of the senator’s enduring legacy.

“Though the highest office eluded him, he attained what is far more enduring: the abiding affection of his fellow citizens, and an example down the generations,” said Ryan as quoted by Big Think.

Lying in state is a tradition and a very exclusive honor. In the tradition, the body of a deceased government official is displayed inside the Capitol or a government office for the family to view. After the ceremony, the public may also pay their respects to the deceased.

The tradition goes back several centuries. The first honored to lie in state was Henry Clay, a three-time presidential candidate and known as “The Great Compromiser,” reports Big Think. Ironically, McCain is also known for his willingness to reach across the aisle in his politics. McCain was known as “The Maverick.”

Many well-known politicians have stood up since McCain’s death to honor him. At his funeral, he will be eulogized by former presidents George Bush and Barack Obama, his rival for the 2008 presidency. Markedly, current President Donald Trump is publicly not invited. Somewhat awkwardly, Vice President Mike Pence was present to honor the late senator, according to CNN.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaking.
Vice President Mike Pence spoke in place of Donald Trump, who was not invited. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

“He held fast to his faith in America through six decades of service. We are here today to honor an American patriot who served a cause greater than himself,” Pence said, according to CNN. “We will forever remember that John McCain served his country and John McCain served his country honorably.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also spoke to honor McCain.

“He had America’s fighting spirit,” McConnell said, as reported by CNN. “I will miss a dear friend whose smile reminded us that service is a privilege […] We thank God for giving this country John McCain.”