In the wake of Sen. John McCain's death, veterans and their family members have been paying tribute to the retired Navy fighter and Vietnam veteran, thanking him for his decades of service to the US military and sharing stories about how he influenced their own careers.
The son and grandson of two four-star Navy admirals, McCain was known throughout his career as an ardent supporter of the armed forces and an advocate for veterans.
Prior to entering politics, McCain spent 23 years in the Navy, including more than five years during which he was held captive and tortured as a prisoner by the North Vietnamese. His refusal to be released before his fellow American prisoners — which his captors had offered to do after learning his father was a well-known admiral — earned him an almost mythical status among other service members, and he returned to the US a decorated war hero.
As a senator, McCain spent three decades on the Armed Services Committee, where he wielded outsize influence on US defense policy. He was also involved in several significant pieces of legislation impacting veterans, including a bipartisan bill to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs in the wake of the VA hospital scandal in 2014.
The following year, McCain was a cosponsor of another veterans health care bill, aimed at improving and expanding VA mental health services in response to a spike in veterans' suicides.
Following the news of McCain's death, one Vietnam War veteran went to the Arizona State Capitol to stand vigil with his flag in honor of the senator, whom he called "a brother."
Another veteran paid his respects at the entrance to the McCain family's ranch in Cornville, Arizona, where the senator spent the final months of his life.
"A great supporter of the US Army whose leadership will be missed," US Army chief of staff Mark Milley said in a tweet. "Thank you for all you have done for all of us in uniform."
"This one's for you," one US Marine Corps veteran tweeted.
In a moving tribute on Twitter, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a veteran of the Iraq War, detailed how she first met McCain while she was recovering at Walter Reed Hospital, after losing both of her legs and damaging her right arm in combat.
During that meeting, Duckworth wrote, McCain joked that they had both flown into missiles and "that didn't take much skill. It's what you do afterwards that matters."
"His unyielding optimism showed me there was a way to continue serving my country and to advance the core values of the nation that we had both sworn to protect," Duckworth wrote.