John McCain. What more can possibly be said. Senator, war hero, candidate for president twice. A person with no connection to anywhere near here, right? Wrong. For in Hillside Cemetery in Marshfield lies Harry Hart McCain ( 1890-1936) Sen. John McCain’s great uncle. It is a small world.
I grew up knowing of the McCain family. The department store in Marshfield where I worked was McCain-Johnson. My uncle Wilber Johnson was the business partner of Harry McCain and they were brothers-in-law. As the years went on the store was just called McCain’s. It went out of business in 1983, a victim of the “mall craze.” Standalone department stores slowly became a thing of the past. Yet the McCain name still lives on in Marshfield.
Growing up with television, I watched the John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and the Sept. 11 victim funerals on TV. So, of course, I took about two hours to watch the funeral of John McCain on TV. What struck me was both the pageantry and the funeral eulogy’s given by Meghan McCain, President Bush, President Obama and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Yet the most moving part of the service for me was the exit music for the late senator.
The exit music was the British hymn, “I Vow to Thee My Country.” It was performed by a brass choir so the words were not present. To appreciate the hymn you need to know the words. The music was composed by Gustav Holst; the words are by Sir Cecil Arthur Spring Rice: “ I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above, Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love; The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test, That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best; The love that never falters, the love that pays the price, The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.”
Very few people I know, myself included, go around professing love of one’s country. Americans are suspicious of people who wrap themselves in the flag and rightfully so. In many things our forefathers were wrong. James Madison’s observation that “…the States were divided into different interests not by their…size…but principally from their having or not having slaves.” The three-fifths compromise was eliminated by the 13th, 14th and 15th amendment be we still struggle with issues left over from the beginning of our nation. That certainly raised a barrier to “loving one’s country.”
In giving Sen. McCain’s eulogy, President Obama said “ I never saw John treat anyone differently because of their race or religion or gender. And I’m certain that in those moments that have been referred to during the campaign, he saw himself as defending America’s character. Not just mine. He considered it the imperative of every citizen who loves this country to treat all people fairly.”
Former President George W. Bush had perhaps the best comment of all the eulogies when he said “ If we are ever tempted to forget who we are, to grow weary of our cause, John’s voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder: ‘We are better than this. America is better than this.’ ”
Sept. 11 has come and gone. Like Dec. 7, 1941, or April 19, 1776, those dates define us as a country. Yet the American experience is not easily defined. The American experience is ongoing and expanding. As we slowly correct the errors of our founding fathers and learn from our mistakes, we define who we are as a nation.
Perhaps John McCain is the American experience. Independent, a person who had a temper. A person who was quick to forgive and to learn from his mistakes. The product of a military education but a person who understood the limits of military power. Someone who understood the suffering of others through his own personal suffering.
In Marshfield lies John McCain’s great uncle. Harry McCain died the same year John McCain was born. They would never meet. However, the rest of us did get the chance to know John McCain and that we can be grateful for.