ANNAPOLIS, Md. — He will overlook the Severn River, surrounded by birds chirping from the large maple and sycamore trees that flank his final resting place.
At the bottom of a green hill speckled by hundreds of gravesites for Naval lieutenants, midshipmen, commanders and admirals — some of whose service concluded centuries ago — Sen. John McCain will have a front-row view of sailboats and ships passing on the river while a new generation of naval officers play soccer on Sherman Field at the U.S. Naval Academy.
It’s the place where his career began. It’s where he wanted it to end.
McCain died Saturday evening after a year-long battle with a rare form of brain cancer. He was 81. He will be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery.
His legacy here in Annapolis isn’t focused on his six terms as an Arizona senator or his two presidential bids. In the place where he will be put to rest, McCain is thought of as a national treasure, a respected hero and one of the city’s most prized naval officers in recent memory.
“It’s not necessarily political,” Amy Bleidon, a 1998 Navy Academy graduate, said of McCain’s legacy.
Rather, she added, he will be remembered in the community for both his “lifelong service” to the country and as a leader who exemplified the respect and character the Navy instills in its officers.
“That lifelong devotion I think is what made him so well thought of by everyone,” she added.
Bleidon, who jogs through the large, colonial-style campus every weekend, says this is the place where so many, including herself, “grew up” and matured.
That’s what it seems the academy did for McCain, who was a well-known rebel when he attended.
The future senator stuck his nose up at the strict rules of the school, drawing demerits, but just as many friends who gravitated to his quick wit and adventurous ways. His rebel attitude would later inspire his “maverick” persona.
He was one of the most popular midshipmen in his 1958 class, becoming a legend of sorts because of his no-rules attitude.
It was at the academy where McCain met who would become a lifelong friend, Charles “Chuck” Larson.
The pair were known as the “odd couple.” McCain was nicknamed “McNasty” for his no-rules attitude that in-turn left him near the bottom of his graduating class, while Larson was a high-achieving naval student who scored good grades. McCain has said he always looked up to his friend.
Larson grew up in Nebraska and rose from an aviator, flying missions in Vietnam, to naval aide to President Richard Nixon. He twice served as the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy.
McCain, meanwhile, served during the Vietnam War, surviving at least two near-death encounters, including five years as a prisoner of war, before his transition into politics.
McCain and Larson remained close friends over their careers and will stay close even in death.
Larson died in 2014 at age 77 and was buried at the Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis. Before his death, McCain picked a burial plot right next to his, both at the edge of a hill overlooking the Severn River.
McCain’s resting place was marked Saturday afternoon with two wooden stakes, one marked with the location and McCain’s name. Parked in the middle of the plot was an orange cone.
A Navy hat and American flag sat nearby at Larson’s grave.
“It’s really only fitting,” said Navy lieutenant Raymond Dennis, gazing out at the cemetery. “He’s so loved here and celebrated. I mean, he was a prisoner of war, tortured for five years, then continued to serve our nation. This is his home and where he should spend eternity.”
Annapolis is a Navy city. The downtown streets are sprinkled with officers in their white uniforms. And McCain seems to be taught almost like a school lesson. His biography is memorized like trivia by many, including Dennis.
As his dog, Maverick, dried off from a swim in the Severn River, Dennis said many young naval officers jog through the cemetery as almost a guide through history, remembering the leaders of yesterday.
“It’s a way for them to connect with the past,” he said. “I’m sure everyone here will want to maintain that closeness with McCain and his legacy.”
That legacy and his code of honor is what so many at his alma mater say defined him over any headline or any political maneuvering.
It’s what made him likable to nearly everyone, no matter political affiliation or beliefs.
“Everyone can learn from him, that sense of resilience and decency and respect,” Dennis added. “It’s very sad. I think his death will cause a void.”