The late Sen. John McCain spent his final Thanksgiving deep-frying seven turkeys for his family

By Charlotte Triggs and Tierney McAfee
November 21, 2018 04:00 PM
John McCain/Facebook

The late Sen. John McCain put his military skills to good use last year during his final Thanksgiving — which he spent deep-frying seven turkeys for his family.

The Vietnam War veteran, who died in August at age 81 after discontinuing treatments for brain cancer, told PEOPLE’s Charlotte Triggs last November that he approached the task like it was a military “operation.”

“It’s about a 4- or 5-hour operation,” the Arizona Republican explained with a laugh.

His wife, Cindy McCain, 64, noted that he had some holiday help from his sons and neighbors.

“He was handing out orders quite well,” Cindy said. “He wanted it done a certain way, and so we had all the boys [helping].”

The prep work began on the morning of Thanksgiving eve because, McCain explained, “one of the important parts is to marinate the turkey at least a day ahead of time.”

“Wednesday morning we were busy marinating and getting everything going,” Cindy added. “The kids were all getting up late, because they stayed up late. So as soon as they showed up we were like, ‘We have to get to the turkeys!’ ”

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On Thanksgiving Day in 2016, McCain shared a behind-the-scenes Facebook photo of himself in action, wearing oven mitts and holding a turkey over a deep-fryer.

“It’s not #Thanksgiving at our family’s house without fried turkey!” he captioned at the time. “Happy Thanksgiving to all!”

The senator’s final Thanksgiving was particularly special because it was a continued celebration of his daughter Meghan McCain‘s wedding to Ben Domenech at the McCain family’s ranch in Sedona on Nov. 21.

Meghan, 34, told PEOPLE last year that her father’s brain cancer diagnosis inspired the couple to ditch their plans to elope in favor of holding a traditional wedding that her father could attend.

“We were originally going to elope before everything happened with my dad, but obviously all these things have taken on new meaning,” Meghan said.

Days later, McCain described the Sedona wedding as “wonderful” and said he teared up when he saw his daughter and her new husband sharing their first dance.

“We are very fortunate. We are the most fortunate people on earth,” he told PEOPLE at the time. “I have had nothing but an incredibly full life and to be able to enjoy the beauty of this place. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”

This year, Meghan celebrated her one-year wedding anniversary with Domenech, while also preparing for her first Thanksgiving without her father.

On Tuesday, Meghan shared a slideshow of sweet photos from her wedding day and gushed over Domenech, 36.

“1 year married tomorrow baby, I can’t believe it’s been a year. My ride or die from day one. In the words of the late poet Johnny Cash — we fell into a burning ring of fire,” Meghan wrote.

“My great love, my best friend, my true partner, my shelter from the storm. I would not have survived this last year without you,” Meghan wrote in reference to the death of her father.