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Who is John McCain? U.S. senator, son, grandson of Navy admirals, POW, maverick

U.S. Sen. John McCain was a national leader, a decorated war hero and a family man who twice ran for president and was known as much for his sometimes-explosive temper as his ability to put partisanship aside to work with people on the other side of the aisle in Congress and others with whom he disagreed.

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The Arizona Republican was known for his “strong love of country, family and service,” according to his biography.

“At his death, he served the United States of America faithfully for sixty years,” according to a message on his website

John Sydney McCain III died Saturday in Sedona, Arizona, at his beloved ranch surrounded by his family after a yearlong struggle with brain cancer. He was 81 and died just a few days shy of his 82nd birthday.

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McCain was born on Aug. 29, 1936, at a naval station in the Panama Canal Zone when it was a U.S. territory. He was the son and grandson of Navy admirals and himself graduated from the Naval Academy in Maryland in 1958, then flight school two years later, Biography reported.

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He enlisted and went to Vietnam to fight alongside other U.S. troops. McCain’s plane was shot down in 1967 and he was captured and brutally tortured. His many injuries included two broken arms and a broken leg he sustained in the crash. He was an American hero by any standard after surviving 5 ½ years as a prisoner of war at the infamous Hoa Loa prison also known as the “Hanoi Hilton.” When McCain had a chance at an early prisoner release, he refused until the other POWs were released, too.

When McCain finally returned home he spent months undergoing rehabilitation and was never able to raise both arms over his head again after having them repeatedly yoked up during years of torture.

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He served in the Navy until 1981 and by 1982 was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate in 1986. He also ran for president twice, first in 2000 and again in 2008, when he became the Republican nominee.

Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) gets a kiss from his wife, Cindy, in 199 as they kick off his campaign in Greenville, S.C. (New York Daily News Archive/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

McCain was often called a “maverick,” a nickname he relished, The New York Times reported, to “advance his political goals.” McCain became known as a “conservative lion of the Senate,” and was recognized for his ability to work with opponents to get things done. 

Among his many distinguished accomplishments during his more than 35 years in Congress, he served as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and as chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. According to his Senate biography page, McCain worked hard on a range of issues during his long political career, including veterans services, government reform, campaign finance reform and environmental stewardship, to name just a few.

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He was married twice, according to Biography.com, the first time to Carol Sheep in 1965. McCain adopted her two sons from a previous marriage. He married Cindy Lou Hensley in 1981 and they had four children together, including an adopted daughter.

Then-presidential candidate John McCain with wife Cindy in their home in Phoenix, Arizona with their children. The oldest daughter is Meghan, their adopted daughter is Bridgette and their two sons Jack and Jimmy are seated at the table on October 14, 1999.

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