Larry Fitzgerald was one of the speakers at the service for Senator John McCain Thursday morning held at North Phoenix Baptist Church. The following is a transcript of Fitzgerald's speech:
‘I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s.’
Senator McCain spoke these heartfelt words as he accepted the Republican nomination for president in 2008. They were the words of an authentic American hero.
We all know how the story goes – a fiery navy pilot was shot down by the North Vietnamese over a lake near Hanoi. As his plane spun out of control, he bailed out just in time to plunge into the lake below. That pilot – a young John McCain – was taken hostage as a prisoner of war, where he spent more than five-and-a-half years – almost 2,000 days. He would endure countless beatings, torture, solitary confinement and mental and emotional anguish that none of us will ever have to endure.
After getting to know Senator McCain, I felt compelled to visit Vietnam. I wanted to see the places where the will of John McCain was tested and forged. I saw the lake. I walked the steps. I sat in the cell. And the ordeal that my friend survived became all the more real.
Many people might wonder what a young, African American kid from Minnesota and a highly decorated Vietnam War hero-turned-United States Senator might have in common. Well, I thought of a few.
I’m black. He was white. (laughter)
I’m young. He wasn’t so young. (laughter)
He lived with physical limitations brought on by war. I’m a professional athlete.
He ran for president. I run out of bounds. (laughter)
He was the epitome of toughness, and I do everything I can to avoid contact. (laughter)
I have flowing locks, and well, he didn’t. (laughter)
How does this unlikely pair become friends? I’ve asked myself the same question. But, you know what the answer is. That’s just who he is.
Over the last several years, I had the privilege of spending time with Senator McCain. Sometimes it was a visit to our practices. Other times, it was him texting and saying, ‘You need to pick it up this Sunday.’
I’m thankful that through these moments, (we had) the opportunity that to share our lives and more importantly our stories. While from very different worlds, we developed a meaningful friendship.
And this highlights the very rare and very special qualities of Senator McCain that I came to deeply admire. He didn’t judge individuals based on the color of their skin, their gender, their backgrounds, their political affiliations or their bank accounts. He evaluated them on the merits of their character and the contents of their hearts. He judged them on the work they put in and the principles they lived by.
It was this approach to humanity that made Senator John McCain so respected by countless people around the world, including me. His accomplishments were many: US Senator, presidential candidate, statesman, warrior and hero. His work ethic – tireless. His fight – legendary.
But what made Senator McCain so special was that he cared about the substance of my heart more so than where I came from. While some might find our friendship out of the ordinary, it was a perfect example of what made him an iconic figure of American politics and service to fellow man.
He celebrated differences. He embraced humanity, championed what was true and just and saw people for who they were.
Yes, ours was an unlikely friendship, but it’s one that I will always cherish.
I’ve had the honor of attending several of the Sedona Forums hosted by Senator McCain and his remarkable wife, Cindy. There were world leaders in politics, business, science and education (gathering) to discuss the most pressing matters of our time. Issues like healthcare, global warming, technology and human trafficking. These leaders gather to find real solutions, and they gathered because Senator John McCain asked them to be there.
His devotion to making Arizona, the United States and the whole world a better place for everyone has inspired countless leaders like those at the Sedona Forums. I’m confident his legacy of devotion and to the common good will continue to inspire people around the world long after today.
A few years ago, he was kind enough to take me on a personal tour of the U.S. Senate. It was obvious that Senator McCain was highly regarded. He believed to be right and was good regardless of which political side of the aisle his opinion fell on. I saw how respected he was and how much admiration he commanded from people from across the political spectrum.
But that admiration wasn’t surprising, because Senator McCain was known as a man of integrity and conviction. A man who at times – just as he sacrificed himself for his fellow POWs in Vietnam – willingly chose to sacrifice his own political gain in order to accomplish what he believed was best for all. As a result of this type of sacrifice, he may have lost the support of a political ally here and there, but he gained the respect and admiration of an entire nation.
In closing, I’d like to honor the love I saw in Senator McCain. He loved the people of Arizona, serving them passionately and diligently for decades. He took that same love to Washington and boldly advocated for freedoms and liberties he had grown to love as a young navy pilot.
But the love I saw most was the love he had for his wife, Cindy, and his children. I heard him speak about them often, and the love always came pouring through in every word.
Senator McCain, it has been a true honor to call you friend. Your toughness and bravery inspired us. Your sacrifice enriched our lives. Your devotion to the people of Arizona, our nation, and your convictions, won our admiration. Your love set an example for all of us to follow.
Jackie Robinson once said, ‘A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.’
Senator McCain, we will miss the blessing of being in your presence, but we will never forget the impact you had on the world and – more importantly – on each of the lives that you touched. We are all better for having known you. Rest in peace, my friend.