Former Vice President Joe Biden delivered a tearful eulogy for his longtime friend and Senate colleague John McCain on Thursday, during a private memorial service at North Phoenix Baptist Church in Arizona

By Tierney McAfee
August 30, 2018 02:48 PM
Justin Sullivan/Getty

Former Vice President Joe Biden delivered a tearful eulogy for his longtime friend and Senate colleague John McCain on Thursday, during a private memorial service at North Phoenix Baptist Church in Arizona.

Biden, 75, began by saying, “My name is Joe Biden. I’m a Democrat. And I loved John McCain.”

He then mentioned giving eulogies for other great women and men in the past but added, “This one’s hard.”

The former vice president choked up and wiped away a tear before continuing, “I always thought of John as a brother.

“We had a hell of a lot of family fights,” he joked to laughter from the crowd.

Joe Biden
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Joe Biden
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Joe Biden
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Biden went on to recall how the two quickly “hit it off” when they first met in the 1970s, while McCain was serving as a liaison between the Navy and the Senate. The two later worked together in the U.S. Senate for more than 20 years.

He added that their “great friendship” transcended whatever political differences they had.

“Because above all, we understood the same thing: All politics is personal. It’s all about trust,” Biden said. “I trusted John with my life.”

Biden later spoke about his late son, Beau, who died in May 2015 of glioblastoma, the same aggressive brain cancer that took McCain’s life and also that of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

“The disease that took John’s life — that took our friend Ted Kennedy’s life, that took my son Beau’s life — is brutal, relentless, unforgiving,” Biden said. “It takes so much from those we love, and from the families who love them, that in order to survive we have to remember how they lived, not how they died.”

“The image I carry with me of Beau is strong, vibrant: the best man his brother Hunter and I ever knew. I’m sure Vicky has her image of Teddy, maybe looking so alive on that beautiful sailboat of his,” Biden said. “Find your image of John, remember it: his smile, his laugh, a moment on the ranch, at a dinner, on a vacation, when you would turn and see him just staring at you, or when you saw the sheer joy that crossed his face the moment he knew he was about to take the stage or go to the floor of the Senate — and start a fight. God, he loved it.”

Biden hailed McCain as a hero but said that “John’s story is the American story.” “America’s future didn’t rest on heroes,” he said. “Heroes didn’t build this country. Ordinary people given half a chance are capable of doing extraordinary things.”

Wednesday’s service is one of several honoring McCain this week, after the iconic Arizona Republican died of brain cancer on Saturday at 81.

Joe Biden
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Cindy McCain and son Jack McCain
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Sen. John McCain’s casket
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The casket of Sen. John McCain is taken from the hearse at the North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix
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McCain will also lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Friday before being transported to Washington, D.C., for a memorial service Saturday at the Washington National Cathedral. The following day, he will be laid to rest in Annapolis, Maryland, in a private funeral service at the Naval Academy, of which he was a graduate.

Before his death, Sen. McCain asked that former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush also deliver eulogies in his honor, according to CBS News. The New York Times reported that two unnamed Republicans familiar with the funeral plans indicated Obama and Bush have already been requested to speak at McCain’s funeral.

Biden — who was the running mate of McCain’s one-time political adversary, future President Barack Obama, in the 2008 campaign — reacted to McCain’s death in a lengthy statement on his Twitter account.

“John was many things — a proud graduate of the Naval Academy, a Senate colleague, a political,” he wrote in part. “But, to me, more than anything, John was a friend. America will miss John McCain. The world will miss John McCain. And I will miss him dearly.”

In May, Biden issued a strong statement defending his friend’s legacy after a Trump White House official reportedly mocked the senator’s brain cancer diagnosis.

“It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway,” special assistant Kelly Sadler, who has since left the White House, reportedly said during a closed-door meeting at the White House.

The White House did not deny the comments in a statement obtained by PEOPLE, simply stating, “We respect Senator McCain’s Service to our nation and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time.”

Biden fired back in a statement at the time, “People have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with this administration. It happened yesterday. John McCain is a genuine hero — a man of valor whose sacrifices for his country are immeasurable. As he fights for is [sic] life, he deserves better — so much better.

“Given this White House’s trail of disrespect toward John and others, this staffer is not the exception to the rule; she is the epitome of it,” Biden continued. “Our children learn from our example. The lingering question is whose example will it be. I am certain it will be John’s.”